The Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) project has been awarded $500,000 to support additional work ahead of Phase II of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.
The mission concept aims to measure the long-wavelength radio waves generated by the ‘cosmic Dark Ages’ that supposedly lasted several hundred million years after the Big Bang.
“While there were no stars, there was ample hydrogen during the universe’s Dark Ages – hydrogen that would eventually serve as the raw material for the first stars,” Joseph Lazio, radio astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.
“With a sufficiently large radio telescope off Earth, we could track the processes that would lead to the formation of the first stars, maybe even find clues to the nature of dark matter.”
The team plans to support the operation by deploying robots to hang wire mesh in a crater on the moon’s far side, enabling communications transmissions.
According to NASA, Earth telescopes are unable to receive signals from the moon’s far side, which has no atmosphere to reflect the signals, with the moon itself also blocking Earth’s radio communications.
“Radio telescopes on Earth cannot see cosmic radio waves at about 33 feet [10 metres] or longer because of our ionosphere, so there’s a whole region of the universe that we simply cannot see,” Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay, a robotics technologist at JPL and the lead researcher on the LCRT project, said.
“But previous ideas of building a radio antenna on the moon have been very resource intensive and complicated, so we were compelled to come up with something different.”
The team is now expected to use the newly secured funding to refine the capabilities of the telescope and the various mission approaches, while also identifying ways to overcome anticipated challenges.
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