Theoretical Concept of Satellite Navigation System for Mars (GNSS for Mars)

Proposed name for the system:

FATIMAFix And TIme provisioning system for MArs

Why satellite navigation system for Mars?:

Precise positioning on Mars is one of the critical aspects of any exploration mission. Current complex planetary exploration systems (orbital and surface) rely on complex navigation and positioning systems, which make these systems complicated, expensive and their missions dangerous. The project of global navigation satellite system for Mars can make these and even the future manned missions more safe, less expensive and the whole positioning in a real time more reliable. The proposed GNSS for Mars (system FATIMA) can be used by more systems or users in the same time simultaneously.

The interesting is the answer for the question of application of satellite navigation system for the first manned mission to Mars. The private space companies and government space agencies often describe their visions of manned Mars exploration from the very general point of view. But one can imagine that Mars isn’t Moon and it isn’t such near the Earth. Mission to Mars will last very long time. Crew will have to spend a lot of time on the surface of Mars. The question is, how will we land on Mars all the necessary modules (habitats, experiment modules, etc..) if we will not have any reliable satellite positioning service? What will happen if the crew will land just a few kilometers (miles) away from the life support systems and modules which would have landed some time before? Martian world is very nice. But can you imagine a crew lost somewhere in this world, with no idea where exactly they’ve just landed and where exactly is the nearest life-support system? Planning a mission to Mars isn’t a Hollywood movie. It is a real thing. Real lives. All the risks have to be minimized to zero.

We all can remember the situation of Apollo 13 astronauts. They were approximately 384 400 km away from Earth. Even the resolution of their technical problems on board of Apollo spacecraft was making a huge headache for many engineers and scientists on Earth. And they were just 384 400 km away. But what if we have a crew of astronauts lost on Mars? Remember, the average distance from Earth to Mars is 225 000 000 km. So they will really need to know where they exactly are in case they will get lost or in case they will land in unexpected distance away from the previously landed equipment and mission modules.

One of the most important parts of the research is the ionosphere of Mars. It causes signal refraction, one of the factors resulting in positioning errors. Image credit: Dr. Jozef Kozar

Research steps and sub-projects are:

  • study of current navigation systems used on Mars (2012, 2013)
  • study of ionosphere of Mars (2013, 2014)
  • study of ionospheric influence on navigation signal transmission (2013, 2014)
  • study of magnetosphere of Mars and general interplanetary fields (2014)
  • research of ionospheric influence (TEC) on positioning and range errors on surface of Mars when using proposed GNSS FATIMA (2014, 2015)
  • research of planetary condition of Mars affecting possible GNSS system (2015)
  • experiment – geometric dilution of precision (GDOP) for Mars GNSS FATIMA (2015)
  • experiment – calculation of navigation signal coverage for Mars GNSS FATIMA (2015)
  • experiment – calculation of satellite constellation parameters (2015)
  • computer simulation of navigation system on Mars (2015)
  • determination of conditions of GNSS for Mars – system FATIMA (2015)
  • Ph.D. thesis completion and defense (May 2016)
  • analysis of autonomous control segment for proposed GNSS for Mars (2016)

Next steps of the research:

  • Detailed study of the topography and of the terrain morphology of Mars. Main goal of this research step is to summarize the places on the surface of Mars with the highest rate of the dilution of precision of the proposed satellite navigation system.
  • Analysis of future Martian robotic and manned planetary exploration missions in the terms of use of precise positioning and timing service.

Related research:

  • Sub-project description: Research of the concept of a Phobos based re-transmission station for the space systems on Mars surface and on Mars orbit.
  • A proposal of building a communication and data re-transmission system located on the surface of Phobos, moon of Mars will bring benefits for monitoring of all current and future Mars exploration missions. This solution will become a part of the space segment of the future global navigation satellite system on Mars (GNSS FATIMA) and will serve as necessary point in a communication channel between Mars and Earth.
  • In this sub-project I closely co-operate with my colleague from NASA.

Data used in research are from direct resources located at Mars (probes):

  • NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
  • NASA Mars Global Surveyor
  • NASA Maven
  • ESA Mars Express

Other resources:

Project website until I was at university (2016). Now covered by my non-profit laboratory.

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