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CSIRO’s Dish to support one of the first commercial moon landings

Image Credits: CSIRO and Intuitive Machines, Press Release

CSIRO has signed a new five-year agreement with a Houston-based aerospace company to support multiple lunar missions, including their first flight under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. The Parkes telescope, also known as Murriyang, is valuable for spacecraft tracking due to its large dish surface and advanced data acquisition systems, which are used primarily for astronomy research.

The 64-metre telescope will be the largest and most sensitive receiving ground station for Intuitive Machines’ upcoming missions, maximising the return of the scientific and engineering data for the lunar exploration program.

The Chief Executive of CSIRO stated that the partnership was an exciting new chapter for the iconic Dish, with the partnership tapping into CSIRO’s expertise and proven track record supporting spacecraft programs. He noted, “It was 50 years ago that Australia played a critical role in the original moon mission, but innovation never sleeps, so we’re proud to support the latest innovations heading to the moon’s surface.”

“Australia is growing a vibrant space industry, underpinned by our unique strengths in agriculture, mining, and materials, and because we know innovation thrives on collaboration, we’re supporting the entire international space community.”

CSIRO’s Acting Chief Scientist said that CSIRO was proud to have its world-class scientific facilities be part of the global team that will help Intuitive Machines and NASA deliver science instruments to the moon.

In addition to NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek station near Canberra, the Parkes radio telescope helped share the Apollo 11 Moon landing with more than 600 million people around the world. “And now 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,” he said.

Intuitive Machines will launch its Nova-C Moon lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket towards the end of 2021, delivering commercial cargo and five NASA experiments to investigate the local geography and test technology required for future human exploration.

CLPS initiative companies are responsible for all aspects of delivering their cargo to the moon, including spacecraft tracking and communication. NASA urged CLPS providers to utilise ground station capabilities outside of NASA’s Deep Space Network, the ground station network supporting the Agency’s many interplanetary space missions.

The Vice President for Control Centers of the aerospace company said is the first commercial company to land on the moon is a huge communications challenge. He said, “We require the technical support and expertise of the team at CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope to provide mission tracking and data downlink services. CSIRO’s Parkes telescope adds significant data downlink capability to Intuitive Machines’ robust Lunar Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network.”

The successful use of the Network for these initial missions will underpin the return of humans to the moon and ultimately sustainable presence under the Artemis program, he added.

The Director of CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science said that the agreement with the aerospace firm recognises CSIRO’s experience operating large, complex spacecraft tracking and radio astronomy infrastructure. 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.

CSIRO is Australia’s national science agency and innovation catalyst. Through innovative science and technology, the agency aims to the greatest challenges. Meanwhile, the Houston-based aerospace company is a premier provider and supplier of space products and services that enable sustained robotic and human exploration to the moon, Mars and beyond.

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