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NASA looks at transforming a moon crater into a kilometer-wide radio telescope

NASA has awarded a grant to explore an ambitious plan that seeks to transform a crater on the far side of the Moon into a massive one-kilometer (3,281-foot) radio telescope. If it comes to fruition, that would be approximately twice the size of China’s recently opened FAST telescope, the world’s largest single dish radio telescope. And almost certainly a whole lot more challenging to create.

“We are proposing to study the feasibility of building an ultra-long wavelength radio telescope, inside a lunar crater on the far-side of the moon,” robotics technologist Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who proposed the project, told Digital Trends. “This Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) will be the largest filled-aperture radio telescope in the solar system.”

The LCRT could enable exciting new scientific discoveries in the field of cosmology by observing the early universe in the 10-50m wavelength band (6-30MHz frequency band), which has not previously been explored. Bandyopadhyay and colleagues first proposed the project in a 2018 paper titled “Conceptual ideas for radio telescope on the far side of the moon.”

Lunar Crater Radio Telescope 1
Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay

Before we can even think about that, NASA would need to officially approve the project for further development. The grant program that awarded funding for the project is intended to nurture “visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions” with new concepts. However, for now, Bandyopadhyay stressed that “LCRT isn’t currently a NASA mission.” After that would come the challenging task of making the radio telescope a reality. This would involve using moon rovers to install a wire mesh inside a lunar crater. A suspended receiver would also have to be put into place in the center of the crater. All of this could reportedly be automated with no humans having to be directly involved on the moon’s surface.

“The objective of [the phase one NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts grant] is to study the feasibility of the LCRT concept and address the biggest technical challenges,” Bandyopadhyay said. “During phase one, we will mostly be focusing on the mechanical design of LCRT, [searching for] suitable craters on the moon, and comparing the performance of LCRT against other ideas that have been proposed.”

Should all go well, though, this could well prove to be the radio telescope of the future. It could join FAST in helping detect assorted phenomena from the deepest depths of space.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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