This illustration represents a conceptual telescope of the lunar crater on the other side of the moon. The concept of the early stage is being studied under a grant from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program, but is not a NASA mission. Credit: Vladimir Vostiansky

Early Stage NASA Concept could see robots ping a wire mesh into a crater across the moon, creating a radio telescope to help explore dawn of the universe.

After years of development, the Lunar Crater Radio Telescope (LCRT) project has received $ 500,000 to support overtime as it enters the second phase of the Innovative Advanced program NASA Concepts (NIAC). Although this is not yet a NASA mission, the LCRT describes a concept of mission that could change humanity’s view of mankind.

The main objective of the LCRT will be to measure the long-wave radio waves produced by the cosmic dark ages – a period that lasted a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, but before that the first stars appear. Cosmologists know little about this period, but they have found answers to some of science’s greatest mysteries that can be confined to long-wave radio emissions produced by the gas that would have filled the universe during this period.

Said Joseph Lazio, a radio astronomer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and a member of the LCRT team. “With a fairly large radio telescope of Earth, we can follow the processes that would lead to the formation of the first stars, and perhaps even find clues to the nature of dark matter.”

The moon’s surface is covered with craters, and a natural depression can provide a supporting structure for a radio telescope dish. As shown in this illustration, Doxel carts can anchor the wire mesh from the edge of the spout. Credit: Vladimir Vostiansky

Radio telescopes on Earth cannot explore this mysterious period because longwave radio waves from that time are reflected by a layer of ions and electrons in the game. upper part of our atmosphere, a region called the ionosphere. Random radio broadcasts from our noisy civilization can also interfere with radio astronomy, inundating even weaker signals.

But on the other side of the moon, there is no atmosphere that reflects these signals, and the moon itself will prevent Earth radio chatter. The far side of the moon could be a drug of choice for unprecedented studies of the early universe.

Radio telescopes on Earth cannot see cosmic radio waves at about 33 feet [10 meters] Saptarchi Bandiupadhyay, robotic technologist at Reaction Propulsion Laboratory and principal investigator on the LCRT project. “But the previous ideas for building a radio antenna on the moon were resource-intensive and complicated, so we had to invent something different.”

To be sensitive to long radio wavelengths, LCRT must be massive. The idea is to create an antenna more than half a mile (1 km) wide in a crater more than 2 miles (3 km) wide. The largest single-plate radio telescopes on Earth – such as the 500-meter (1,600-foot) 500-meter (1600-foot) 500-meter aperture spherical telescope (FAST) in China and the spherical telescope 1000-foot-wide (305 meters) porch that is not currently operational The Arecibo Observatory is being built in Puerto Rico at ?? The interior of natural bowl-shaped depressions in the landscape to provide a supportive structure.

A conceptual radio telescope can be built from a metal antenna inside the crater. In this illustration, the receiver can be seen suspended above a satellite dish via a system of cables anchored to the edge of the mouth. Credit: Vladimir Vostiansky

This class of radio telescope uses thousands of reflective panels suspended inside the depression so that the entire surface of the antenna reflects the radio waves. The receiver is then suspended through a cable system at a focal point above the antenna, anchored by towers around the perimeter of the antenna, to measure the waves. radio bouncing off the curved surface below. But despite its size and complexity, even FAST is not sensitive to radio wavelengths greater than 4.3 meters.

Bandiopadhyay, with his team of engineers, robotics scientists, and scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, condensed this class of radio scopes into their simplest form. Their concept eliminates the need to transport heavy materials to the moon and uses robots to automate the construction process. Instead of using thousands of reflective panels to focus incoming radio waves, the LCRT will be constructed from a thin wire mesh in the center of the hole. A spacecraft will connect the grid and a separate lander will drop off DuAxel rovers to build the antenna over several days or weeks.

DuAxel, a robotic concept under development at JPL, consists of two uniaxial touring vehicles (called Axels) that can unscrew while remaining in contact via a rope. Half will anchor at the edge of the pit while the others descend to make the building.

“DuAxel solves many problems associated with hanging such a large antenna inside a lunar crater,” said Patrick McGarry, robotics technologist at the JPL and member of the LCRT and DuAxel project team. “Axel Rovers can enter the crater when attached to the wires, clamp the wires and lift the wires to hang the antenna.”

To take the project to the next level, it will use NIAC second stage funding to enhance telescope capabilities and various mission approaches while identifying challenges in course.

One of the biggest challenges the team faces during this phase is the design of the wired network. To maintain the shape of the dish and precise spacing between the wires, the mesh should be strong and flexible, but light enough to move. The grid must also be able to withstand wild temperature changes on the moon’s surface – from minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit (Minus 173 degrees C) to as low as 260 ° F (127 Â ° C) – no twist or failure.

Another challenge is to determine whether Doxl compounds should be fully automated or involve a human factor in the decision-making process. Can DuAxels build also be supplemented by other construction technologies? For example, throwing harpoons at the surface of the moon might stabilize the LCRT network better, requiring fewer robots.

Additionally, while the far side of the moon is “radio silent” at the moment, this may change in the future. The Chinese Space Agency is currently on a mission to explore the far side of the moon, after all, and further development of the moon’s surface could influence possible radio astronomy projects. .

Over the next two years, the LCRT team will also work to identify other challenges and issues. If successful, they can be selected for further development, an iterative process that inspires Bandyopadhyay.

“The development of this concept could lead to significant advancements along the way, especially with regard to diffusion technologies and the use of robots to build gigantic structures outside Earth”, he said. “I am proud to work with this diverse team of experts who inspire the world to brainstorm big ideas that can make groundbreaking discoveries about the universe we live in. . ”

NIAC is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Missions Directorate, which is responsible for developing new technologies and comprehensive capabilities that the agency requires.

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