OCELOT is a new mission between NASA, professors Dr. Jones & Dr. Zanetti, graduate students at UT Austin and Johnson Space Center (JSC), and the TSL. The project’s focus is to develop an algorithm that demonstrates surface-feature based navigation and timing. The navigation and timing data will be calculated by identifying surface features (craters) on the Moon. OCELOT’s main objectives are to mature the algorithm for use on a 3U cubesat by raising the technology readiness from 3 to 5, and to design a mission concept and bus design for a live demonstration in low-earth orbit.
Currently, there is no infrastructure that allows for navigation on the moon’s surface. In other words, there is no lunar equivalent of the GPS that autonomous vehicles can use to navigate on the moon’s surface. With NASA’s upcoming Artemis mission, and a resurgence of interest in sending astronauts to the moon, the need for an infrastructure that supports autonomous navigation is critical. Missions like OCELOT are an important first step in creating a navigation infrastructure on and around the moon, and more broadly, in regions where GPS capabilities do not exist.
OCELOT will navigate by locating three or more craters on the Moon’s surface, and calculating the distances between each crater’s centroid. After comparing the calculated distances with on-board datasets, and determining the angles the satellite makes with the craters, the position of the satellite can be calculated. By iterating this approach, a live demonstration of the satellite calculating its position is achieved. In the far-future, the satellite can use this method and positional data provided by on-ground assets (provided via radio), and calculate the positioning, navigation, and timing information between the assets.
Project History and Overview
Project OCELOT was envisioned by three UT students- Sofia Catalan, Zac McLaughlin, and Alexis Zinni, who submitted a proposal to the NASA Smallsat Technology program. The proposal was selected to move forward in the spring of 2020, and the next phase of the mission officially commenced on July 1st, 2020. The project is divided into distinct tasks. The development and testing of the algorithm will be created and tested by graduate students at UT Austin and JSC. The TSL’s role in the mission will be to develop the satellite bus design, as well as formulate the mission design, objectives, and concept of operations. The current phase of the mission will last two years till Spring 2022, which will take the mission up until preliminary design review (PDR).