NASA Wants to Put a High-Res Telescope Camera Array on the Moon

NASA Lunar telescope plans

A team from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has proposed a design for a lunar-based multi-camera telescope array that could start small, but expand to be much larger over time.

As part of the Artemis mission, NASA hopes to build the necessary infrastructure to allow for a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development,” which includes a Lunar Gateway that would allow for regular trips to and from the surface, Universe Today reports. If successful, construction on the Moon’s surface could be possible, and astronauts could remain at a base camp there for up to two months.

Having regular access to the Moon’s surface opens up opportunities, such as constructing a high-resolution telescope array that could photograph objects in both the visible and infrared spectrums. That is, at least, what a team from NASA is proposing.

“NASA’s return to the Moon offers significant opportunities to take practical steps towards high-impact scientific capabilities. One obvious candidate is extremely high-resolution interferometric imaging at visible and ultraviolet wavelengths,” Kenneth Carpenter, a member of the Goddard Space Flight Center team, is proposing.

There was a 1966 study that weighed the pros and cons of a lunar-based telescope compared to a free-flying one such as Hubble or the James Webb Space Telescope, and it concluded that the latter was more viable since the former would require building infrastructure on the Moon. Obviously, it was far more costly to set up a lunar base than it would be to pursue individual satellites, and so that is what humankind has done.

However, if the ability to access the Moon more easily became available, the argument to revisit the concept of a lunar telescope becomes more palatable.

“Now that a lunar infrastructure is foreseeable under the Artemis Program, it is compelling and timely that we investigate building interferometers on the lunar surface. Our goal is the same level of detailed study as was done for large baseline, free-flying interferometers during the 2003-2005 NASA Vision Missions Studies, in order to be prepared to take advantage of such lunar infrastructure,” Carpenter writes.

The proposed plan would cover everything from how the structure would be built, how it would be maintained, methods that could be used to expand it, and a variety of reasons in support of its construction ranging from the practical (the benefits of a lunar-based telescope) to the intangibles (the generation of “tremendous public and community interest”).

Carpenter’s pitch for a lunar-based telescope camera array is just one of several that are being considered as part of NASA’s Artemis Mission.

Image credits: Graphic depiction of A Lunar Long-Baseline Optical Imaging Interferometer: Artemis-enabled Stellar Imager (AeSI), Kenneth Carpenter