Astronomical Observatories on the Lunar Surface: A New Challenge for Civil Engineers


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Title: Astronomical Observatories on the Lunar Surface: A New Challenge for Civil Engineers

Author(s): P. N. Swanson, J. D. Burke, J. A. Cutts, and J. A. Hendrickson

Publication: Special Publication

Volume: 125


Appears on pages(s): 167-176

Keywords: astronomical observatories; civil engineering; lunar bases; observatories; General

Date: 5/1/1991

During the NASA 90-day study, in response to the President's statement on the space exploration initiative, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory conducted a study of potential astronomical observatories that could be situated on the lunar surface in conjunction with the lunar outpost. The scientific objectives were derived from the four NASA discipline management and operations working groups, several special workshops and symposia on lunar astrophysics, and the NASA Office of Space Science and Applications (OSSA). The overriding premise in selecting and defining the lunar observatories was that the moon must provide some unique advantage in performance, cost, or other significant parameter, such that the experiment could be executed better there than anywhere else. The unique properties of lunar siting include 1/6 gravity, a large stable platform, long continuous viewing times, and low nighttime temperatures. The four observatories were: a seven-element optical interferometer with a 1- to 2-km baseline; a seven-element submillimeter interferometer with coherent detectors and a 1-km baseline; a very low-frequency interferometer (ó 30 MHz) with 100 elements and a 200-km baseline on the lunar far side; and a gravitational wave detector with two 50-km arms, perhaps operating in conjunction with an earth-based gravitational detector. Advanced technology needs associated with the four observatories have been identified and include advances in optical delay lines and beam combiners, coherent heterodyne detectors, instrument cryogenic systems, and methods for construction on the moon, such as building foundations, trenching building roads, etc. In particular, the problems of construction and civil engineering commonplace on earth present a new class of problem for the lunar surface. The paper addresses some of these civil engineering needs and suggests precursor experiments that should be done to provide a firm basis for the construction of astronomical observatories on the moon.