The CSIRO observatory in NSW is home to one of the biggest single-dish telescopes in the southern hemisphere. In 2020, local Wiradjuri elders gave the 64-metre-diameter telescope the name Murriyang, meaning skyworld.
While the Dish hasn’t gone anywhere – it has been working hard surveying the sky to find galaxies and pulsars – this will be the first time since Apollo that it has helped with a lunar landing.
CSIRO has signed a five-year deal with aerospace company Intuitive Machines to provide ground station support that will mean data can go to the Moon and come back again within four seconds.
CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall says the deal heralds a new chapter.
“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,” he says.
Acting CSIRO chief scientist Dr Sarah Pearce said the organisation was “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”.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will take Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C Moon lander into space. Intuitive Machines vice president for control centers Dr Troy LeBlanc said his company needed the technical support and expertise of CSIRO’s team to track the mission and download data to feed into its global Lunar Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network.
“The CSIRO organisation is well set up to work with radio astronomers around the world, with NASA, so for us to come to them as a commercial lunar opportunity it was a very easy transition for them to have us become a potential user of their resources,” he says.
He says after a year working on the technical requirements, they came to the five-year agreement for Parkes to talk to vehicles on the Moon and return data.
NASA had requested that the company not rely on their resources, and instead find commercially available telescopes.