The iconic Dish is set to play a new role in moon exploration

By AAP March 25, 2021
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Australia’s Parkes radio telescope, affectionately dubbed the Dish, is about to play a new lead role in moon exploration.

The dish 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 radio telescope 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.

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It will be the first of many to be supported by the telescope, near Parkes in country NSW, 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.

Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, owns the Parkes telescope.

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.”

Related: On this Day: ‘The Dish’ radio telescope opens

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

The Parkes telescope 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.