Parkes Dish to play new role in moon exploration

EXCITING: The famous Parkes Radio Telescope will be supporting one of the first commercial moon landings by tracking the delivery of lunar exploration gear later this year. Photo: CSIRO
EXCITING: The famous Parkes Radio Telescope will be supporting one of the first commercial moon landings by tracking the delivery of lunar exploration gear later this year. Photo: CSIRO

The Parkes Radio Telescope is poised for another 15 minutes of fame, half a century after the Australian telescope captured images of humanity's first steps on the moon.

Later this year the enormous Dish as it is more fondly known, celebrated in the iconic Aussie film, will track the delivery of lunar exploration gear and help get crucial scientific and engineering data back to earth.

The mission has been tentatively scheduled for October and will drop instruments near the moon's largest valley, comparable in size to the Grand Canyon.

It will be the first of many to be supported by the telescope, at Parkes, under a five-year deal with a US aerospace company.

Intuitive Machines will be the first commercial company to land on the moon and towards the end of this year will use its Nova-C moon lander, travelling on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, to deliver commercial cargo and five NASA experiments.

The experiments will delve into local geography and test technology required for future human exploration.

EXPLORATION: US aerospace company Intuitive Machines will be the first commercial company to land on the moon, using its Nova-C moon lander towards the end of this year. Photo: CSIRO

EXPLORATION: US aerospace company Intuitive Machines will be the first commercial company to land on the moon, using its Nova-C moon lander towards the end of this year. Photo: CSIRO

Australia's national science agency, the CSIRO, owns the Parkes telescope, which last November was given a Wiradjuri name, Murriyang.

It's excited about the role it will play in the upcoming missions, more than 50 years after it helped share images of the Apollo 11 moon landing with more than 600 million people around the world.

"We are proud to support the first companies extending their reach to the moon's surface, advancing knowledge that can benefit life both on earth and, one day, on the moon," the CSIRO's Acting Chief Scientist Dr Sarah Pearce said on Thursday.

"This is another example of Australian capability supporting the international space community."

The telescope, which measures 64 metres across, will be the largest and most sensitive receiving ground station for the Intuitive Machines missions.

The Dish began supporting space missions in 1962, when it tracked the first interplanetary space mission, Mariner 2, as it flew by the planet Venus.

Most recently, the telescope received data from Voyager 2 as it entered interstellar space, supporting the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, which Australia manages for NASA.

"Operating as a ground station for space missions complements the astronomy research conducted with the telescope and helps to maintain its capabilities as a world-class research instrument," the CSIRO says.

Intuitive Machines Vice President for Control Centers Dr Troy LeBlanc said being the first commercial company to land on the moon is a huge communications challenge.

"We require the technical support and expertise of the team at CSIRO's Parkes Radio Telescope to provide mission-tracking and data downlink services," he said.

"CSIRO's Parkes Telescope adds significant data downlink capability to Intuitive Machines' robust Lunar Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network."