Those areas include better understanding asteroids, comets or other space objects to see if there’s usable or other unique materials that could be potentially mined for resource extraction.
NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, was the first-ever mission dedicated to investigating and demonstrating one method of asteroid deflection by changing an asteroid’s motion in space through kinetic impact. It successfully hit its target Dimorphos, a moonlet orbiting the asteroid Didymos, on Sept. 26, 2022. The NRAO worked with NASA and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to make measurements confirming the DART mission was successful.
The radar demonstration system used less transmitted power than is found in a conventional microwave oven. Precise radar astrometry and resolved imaging for orbit determination, trajectory prediction and Earth impact-hazard assessment as well as physical characterization (such as rotation state, size, shape, structure, composition and natural satellites) will be incredibly valuable for planetary science and defense.
“The NRAO has never built a high-power transmitter but has participated as a receiver in planetary radar experiments,” Wilkinson said. “Our experience in radar is what they need to successfully realize planetary radar capabilities for their observatory.”
While the lunar imagery can be amazing to look at, bigger plans exist for the telescope and how it can be used on Earth beyond scientific missions. The project’s aim of learning more about space is still the goal, collecting imagery and data in each sweep of the near-Earth objects above us and creating an even greater awareness or interest in exploring what is in Earth’s neighborhood.
“There are new challenges that are forcing us to develop new methods since most of our standard techniques are inadequate for planetary radar,” Wilkinson said.
The moon is a test subject in a sense due to its proximity – after all, it has been privy to intrigue and study for centuries by humans. This telescope project is just another example of humans staring out into space to understand our world a little bit more. That is the cool factor that helps drive the project investigators on seeking what lies beyond our eyes.