The Chang’e-4 expedition has made a couple of important conquests during the time it was put to function. The vehicle is the forth installment sent to the Moon that belongs and is managed by the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, which launched it this year in January.
The mission lander and its Yutu 2 (meaning ‘Jade Rabbit’) rover became the first robotic scanners to manage a soft landing on the far side of the Moon, and the first expedition to grow plants on Earth’s natural satellite.
In the most recent achievement, the Netherlands-China Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE) started operations after a year or rotating around the Moon. This tool was installed on the Queqiao communications satellite and includes a three 5-meter (16.4 feet) long monopole antennas that are able to pick up radio frequencies between 80 kHz and 80 MHz. As this instrument has been activated, Chang’e-4 entered into the next stage of its expedition.
More Than a Communications Relay
The radio observatory is the outcome of a partnership of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) and the China National Space Agency (CNSA). It is the first observatory built to conduct radio astronomy analyses while rotating around the exterior side of the Moon. This area is believed to be perfect for such experiments because it is isolated from any terrestrial radio interference. This is the reason why Queqiao has had to be the communications base between the Chang’e-4 expedition since radio signals cannot get past the far side of the Moon directly.
The NCLE is able to perform numerous kinds of scientific research, but its main purpose is to lead innovative experiments in radio astronomy. More precisely, the NCLE will collect data in the 21-cm (8.25-inch) emission scope, which matches up with the young periods in cosmic history.
Until today, the Quegiao satellite was mainly a communications broadcaster between the lunar installation and mission managers on Earth. However, with the main targets of the Chang’ e-4 expedition now successfully achieved, the CNSA has set the start to the next stage of operations, which is to manage a radio observatory on the exterior side of the Moon.
This new phase is the peak of three years of difficult work, and the demonstration of this technology is hoped to make way for new potential radio instruments in space. Besides scientists with ASTRON and the CNSA, there are lots of people all over the world excitedly awaiting the NCLE’s first radio observations.
Crucial Data on the Way to be Discovered
Professor Heino Falcke, the chief of astrophysics and radio astronomy at Radboud University, is also the scientific head of the Dutch-Chinese radio telescope.
He said: “We are finally in business and have a radio-astronomy instrument of Dutch origin in space. The team has worked incredibly hard, and the first data will reveal how well the instrument truly performs.”
The placement of the tool was meant to happen at some point in time, but the one-year wait seemed to have some sort of effect on the instrument. In the beginning, the antennas unfolded without any issue, but the progress became progressively torpid with time. Therefore, the team decided to gather data from the partially-unfolded antennas first and may later determine whether they should unfold them more.
As soon as the antennas are completely deployed, they will be capable of capturing signals from after the Big Bang. This will enable scientists to see the first stars taking life and star clusters forming the first galaxies.