As early as 2030, engineers and robots from Earth could begin construction on FarView, an astronomical observatory that would expand over 200 square kilometers (77 square miles) of the moon’s surface—almost entirely using materials mined from the moon itself.
This month, NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program awarded Lunar Resources, a pioneering space industrial company based in Houston, a study contract for a design of FarView, a lunar far side radio observatory. The proposed observatory includes more than 100,000 dipole antennas and would become the most powerful telescope ever built for studying low-frequency radio waves. Such radiation could provide astrophysicists with an unprecedented glimpse into the universe’s “Dark Ages,” an epoch in the cosmos’ history before the first stars formed.
The FarView team includes Jack Burns, professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at CU Boulder. He explained that the observatory would be able to conduct scientific research impossible from Earth.
“For the first time, we could investigate the unexplored Dark Ages of the early universe, a time before and during the formation of the very first stars and galaxies,” Burns said.
The study will be led by Ronald S. Polidan of Lunar Resources. Scientists from Brown University, SRI International, Lockheed Martin, the California Insitute of Technology and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are also taking part.
“Successfully developing and building FarView would open a dramatic new era for both exploring the universe and for utilization of the moon for the benefit of humankind,” said Polidan, director of programs for Lunar Resources. “The scale, scope and sensitivity of this radio array is orders of magnitude greater than other space-based concepts and could enable major breakthroughs in understanding of the origins of our universe and a wide range of other science disciplines.”
The far side of the moon is shielded from natural and human-made radiation from Earth, which can interfere with observations of space. FarView would be sensitive enough to detect a single cell phone on the surface of Pluto. It could reveal new clues to some of the biggest questions in the history of the universe, including the origins of dark matter and dark energy. The observatory could also examine activity on the sun’s surface and measure the magnetic fields that may shield life on habitable exoplanets in our solar neighborhood.
NIAC selects proposals for concepts in early stages of development through a process that emphasizes innovation and technical viability to fund their maturation even though they are not considered official NASA missions.
FarView is one such early-stage concept, and this award is a two-year design study that will mature the concept originally developed during a NIAC-funded feasibility study. With continued maturation, FarView could begin construction on the moon as early as 2030, Polidan said.
Lunar Resources plans to build the observatory, which would extend over an area the size of Washington, D.C., in-situ on the surface of the moon. Engineers working in tandem with robots would extract the vast majority of FarView mass from the lunar regolith, using these resources to make most of the facility, including its power structure.