Associate Professor Lee Spitler – AAO and Advanced Navigation, Moon to Mars Initiative

Associate Professor Lee Spitler – AAO and Advanced Navigation, Moon to Mars Initiative

As part of a Moon to Mars Initiative, Australian Astronomical Optics  (AAO) at Macquarie University will build a new optical multi-beam laser collimator that will land on the moon.

The project is part of a collaboration between AAO and lead partner, Advanced Navigation, awarded a $5.2M Moon to Mars Initiative: Demonstrator Mission Grant by the Australian Space Agency. Advanced Navigation will deliver a sensor called LUNA (Laser measurement Unit for Navigational Aid) to US-based space systems company, Intuitive Machines, as part of NASA’s ongoing Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

Intuitive Machines will mount LUNA onboard its Nova-C lander. The LUNA sensor, using AAO’s focused multi-beam optical laser device (known as a collimator), will eventually allow a lander to safely touch down on the moon without any real-time assistance from mission control. 

Project lead Advanced Navigation chose AAO to design and build the laser collimator for the LUNA device due to their proven expertise in the area of precision astronomical instrumentation. Due to the complex nature of the project, AAO will outsource some of its component manufacturing to local Australian industry partners. 

AAO is a member of the Astralis Instrumentation Consortium (Astralis). Forming Australia’s dedicated, national optical astronomy instrumentation capability Astralis is funded by Department of Education’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) program via Astronomy Australia Limited (AAL). 

We are thrilled to be drawing on our expertise in the area of astronomical instrumentation and developing this essential component for future explorations of space. 

Associate Professor Lee SpitlerProject lead for AAO

Although NASA intends to eventually send humans back to the Moon, its first missions will be uncrewed. LUNA’s enhanced functionality and low size, weight, and power compared to alternative sensors makes it an attractive option for future missions.   

During an autonomous landing on the lunar surface, mission controllers cannot make navigational adjustments in real-time due to the communications delay between Earth and the Moon. 

This is where LUNA comes in. Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander will be fitted with Advanced Navigation’s sensor device, using AAO’s optical collimators to tighten the focus of four laser beams as they are bounced off the reflective lunar surface during final descent. These lasers will deliver instantaneous information about the landing site back to the craft, allowing it to make real-time adjustments to its trajectory and positioning – ensuring a successful touchdown on the surface of the Moon.

“We will be creating a series of four telescopes that will send out laser signals and detect the reflected laser light that bounces off the lunar surface,” explains AAO Associate Professor Lee Spitler. The AAO team will create this critical component for the landers from 2025-26, enabling exploration of unreached regions of the Moon and beyond to Mars.

We are humbled the Australian Space Agency has awarded us a Demonstrator Mission Grant as it represents a pivotal milestone in the company’s trajectory, as we embark to be among the first Australian technologies to reach the Moon. Our work with AAO will enhance Australia’s sovereign space capabilities, further unlock the commercial Space economy, and ignite a new era of innovation as we push the boundaries of scientific discoveries and exploration on the Moon and beyond.

Xavier Orr CEO and co-founder, Advanced Navigation

For more information, click this link to access AAO’s news story, AAO technology is going to the Moon. This page provides a link to their industry partner and LUNA project lead, Advanced Navigation.

Associate Professor Lee Spitler. Credit: Macquarie University.
The LUNA device will be mounted to the Nova-C lander, allowing it to adjust its trajectory as it descends. Credit: Advanced Navigation.
Earth from the Moon, as seen during the Apollo missions. Credit: NASA.