The SpaceCraft for Optical-based Position Estimation (SCOPE) is the newest mission at the TSL, and is funded by the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate, as well as the Small Satellite Technology Program. The project’s Principal Investigators are Dr. Brandon Jones & Dr. Renato Zanetti.
SCOPE is a collaboration between three groups- NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Graduate Research Assistants at UT Austin, and the TSL. The TSL is focused on the spacecraft and mission design of the project. The project’s focus is to develop a set of algorithms that demonstrate surface-feature based navigation and timing. The navigation and timing data will be generated by identifying and analyzing surface features on the planet or moon below. UT and JSC will mature the algorithms for use on-orbit, by raising the technology readiness from 3 to 5. The algorithms’ capabilities will then be demonstrated in low-Earth orbit, by observing terrestrial features.
SCOPE is part of a larger project to develop Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) software for near-lunar space. 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 SCOPE are an important first step to develop such technologies in Earth orbit before investing in a lunar mission.