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This is a lightly edited version of a mail I sent to the CASCA contact address; I was told that they weren’t immediately aware of my concerns, and I should check here. So:
I have an enquiry relating to space astronomy, and future lunar astronomy in particular. I recently have become concerned, watching the rise of activity directed at lunar exploration, about prospects for a lunar Far Side radio telescope. This is something which has long been hoped for as a future facility, but until very recently has seemed far out of reach. It still is somewhat out of reach, however, I see events moving to overtake the greatest benefit from such a facility: the radio silence of the lunar Far Side.
Already, several communications satellites have been put in lunar orbit, and with the upcoming NASA lunar project, serious discussion can be found on the web about establishing a lunar GPS satellite system. It seems that Far Side radio silence may be lost long before a telescope could be built.
Wondering about this, I contacted the Canadian Space Agency earlier this month, and was surprised to discover in their reply, although it did not directly address my concerns, that a “policy consultation” with Canadians is currently underway, soliciting public input on Canada’s position on space exploration, with particular attention to lunar activity linked to Canada’s involvement with NASA’s Artemis project.
Specifically, public input is invited before March 31st, and a “webinar” is scheduled for Feb 19th, free to interested parties. I plan to participate in this, and find out what attention has been given to mechanisms for reserving Dark Sky provisions for the lunar Far Side. But I am just an interested lay person in this process; my closest claim to legitimacy is my BSc. in astronomy & physics from UBC in 1974.
So, I first thought I would seek out (as led me to the CSA) any information I can find about who is knowledgeable regarding what sort of Lunar Dark Sky provisions the radio astronomy community would like to secure, if they could petition for them, and also to alert you, in the event that you are not already cognizant, of the existence of this opportunity to get an oar in for lunar radio astronomy.
In support of the relevance of this inquiry, I will note that NASA has supported design studies to devise methods of robotic construction of a radio dish in a lunar crater: https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/2020_Phase_I_Phase_II/lunar_crater_radio_telescope/
and in the journal Space Policy, XXX 2016, Martin Elvis writes in the paper “What can space resources do for astronomy and planetary science?”,
“Traditionally the main band in which a lunar observatory has an advantage is low frequency radio telescope on the far-side, where it would be shielded from terrestrial interference. A large version of this telescope with long baselines to obtain good angular resolution would be straightforward to construct if we have the capability to mine the lunar surface. We would need to take care than any GPS system or comsats in lunar orbit do not produce interference for this telescope.”
(This paper, I was pleased to find, tracks my thinking about the imminent development of lunar space, and the need to think ahead before facts-on-the-ground preclude the best astronomy opportunities.)
So, that is how things stand, and I’m wondering if the radio astronomy community is well ahead of this, or have given it any thought. Certainly we can assume that radio astronomy will not be foremost on the minds of those driving the current push for lunar exploration, and the establishment of lunar industrialization will be the source of the economies of scale that make a lunar telescope possible, some decades in the future.
But I think it important that this issue be on the table at these discussions, that it be “on the radar” of those who have the control of things like lunar radio bandwidth assignment (a subject which can be found mentioned in the background materials for the policy consultation process, to be found here or in sub-page links: https://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/astronomy/moon-exploration/framework-future-space-exploration-activities-background-info.asp ).
Anyway, I would appreciate any thoughts you have on this. As I say, I will be connecting with this “webinar”, and may construct some sort of a submission to the consultation process, but it would help if I know a bit of what I was talking about, and I think it might even be not unreasonable if you were to consider an intercession of your own by the Society.
By the way, the webinar is on friday, Feb 19th; you can register for it here: https://www.asc-csa.gc.ca/eng/astronomy/moon-exploration/consulting-canadians-framework-future-space-exploration-activities.asp
but it takes about a day for the registration to be processed and to receive a reply with the access info, so if you want to attend you must act immediately.
Well, I am disappointed that no response has been forthcoming, though considering mine is the only post here, I guess it is rare for anyone to inspect this page, outside of the person who moderated the previous comment, finally posting it several days after the webinar it attempted to highlight had occurred. So, as there are few days left to make submissions to the CSA consultation, I have constructed a lone voice submission hoping it will stand on its own virtues. I will copy the content here, anyway:
March 23, 2021
Submission to the Consultation on a Framework for Future Space Exploration
by the Canadian Space Agency
Proposal for wording of an agreement acknowledging the value of a Radio Dark Sky for the Lunar Far Side
I suggest that it should be made explicit by some form of international agreement, that a reserved region of the lunar far side will be of considerable value for constructing sensitive astronomical instruments at some point in the future when we are in a position to accomplish this. To this end, it should be agreed that at some future point when it becomes feasible, a region on the lunar far side shall be marked out, and designated a Far Side Dark Sky Reserve, where such instruments can be built, with confidence that they will have a radio-quiet environment in order to gain the maximum scientific value of their research. Critically, any and all satellites placed in orbit around the moon should have the ability baked in to shut off all radio communications when in a position in their orbit to be above the horizon from the position of said instruments.
This agreement will need to be worded by those appropriately skilled, in the required legal and diplomatic language, to include caveats for managing emergency situations where radio communications are deemed sufficiently urgent to override the radio silence edict, and possibly to include considerations of times scheduled for irreducibly necessary brief satellite communications, in order to achieve the necessary international agreement.
This proposal may seem premature, but again this week an announcement by the ESA has indicated their intention to establish their “Moonlight” project to place a GPS system around the moon.
If official international recognition of the concept of a Lunar Far Side Dark Sky is not soon established, its future may be aborted by the “facts on the ground”, or in orbit, in this case. As I have written before in my initial enquiry, the notion of using the lunar far side as a site for sensitive astronomical instruments has been cherished by the astronomical community ever since the beginning of the space age made such a project imaginable as more than fantasy. NASA has done studies on ways of constructing radio astronomy dishes, via robotic means, using the favourable geometry of far side impact craters:
So, these competing interests need to be highlighted, and managed in a way that is most beneficial to all involved, and thus demonstrate responsible international stewardship of our future in space.
Thanks for this very timely opportunity to point out this issue and the path to its resolution.
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