With the Arecibo Radio Telescope’s collapse in 2020, NASA revealed one of its most ambitious plans yet — to build a much larger radio telescope inside a lunar crater with the primary purpose of detecting long-wavelength radio signals from the universe’s early days. The Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) was proposed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the same year and was awarded $500,000 in funding in 2021 to support its further research and work.
What is the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope
The Lunar Crater Radio Telescope is a huge project under the NNSC (NASA’s New Frontiers in Space Challenges) mission concept that is aimed at detecting dark matter and studying the cosmic’s early days, particularly the Dark Ages — the period that happened after the Big Bang and before the first stars. It would be built into a natural depression on the moon’s surface that is about 3 kilometers wide.
This moon-based telescope will be designed to have greater sensitivity than any previous radio telescopes, which means that it would operate as a large telescope to be sensitive to long radio wavelengths. China’s FAST is the current largest single-dish radio telescope on Earth, but the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope is planned to be 2 times bigger with an antenna over 1 km or half-a-mile wide.
The design and construction of the wire mesh is one of the biggest challenges as it has to maintain its shape. strength, and flexibility, and will have to be able to withstand the temperature changes on the Moon’s surface that ranges from -280 degrees Fahrenheit (-173 C) to 260 degrees Fahrenheit (127 C). An extremely significant part of the execution of this project would be the use of robots to automate the construction process.
The DuAxel is a robotic concept composed of two single axle rovers that will be connected together through a tether. The idea is to have one-half act as an anchor at the edge of the crater while the other rappels down to do the building.
Lunar Crater Radio Telescope Advantages
To this date, cosmologists have little knowledge about the Universe’s Dark Ages Period. They believe that a lot of the biggest mysteries can be unraveled through the long-wavelength radio signals generated during that time that cannot be observed through radio observatories on Earth. The concept of a moon-based telescope opens up so many possibilities and advantages that will allow astronomers to explore beyond our planet’s borders.
For one, a lunar telescope will be able to operate in a frequency range unblocked by the atmosphere. The Earth’s ionosphere reflects wavelengths longer than 10 meters, making it impossible for our existing telescopes to detect them. With the Moon’s lack of atmosphere, it will allow the telescope to reach longer radio wavelengths.
The moon’s far side could also be prime real estate to conduct groundbreaking studies of the early universe with the moon itself acting as a physical shield to block radio interference from Earth that can drown out the faintest signals.
The Lunar Crater Radio Telescope is an incredible and ambitious project proposal for NASA that aims to help astronomers have more options for exploring the universe beyond our planet’s borders. Being a moon-based telescope, it will be able to detect radio signals from objects in space that we are not able to explore from Earth due to several limitations.
The LCRT is currently still in its early stages of planning and development, but it is believed to revolutionize our understanding of the early universe and open up groundbreaking discoveries in radio astronomy.