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Aussie Dish to support Moon landings

Chris Griffith, March 28, 2021 2:45PM The Australian

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SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the manned Crew Dragon spacecraft attached takes off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US. Picture: Getty Images/AFP media_cameraSpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the manned Crew Dragon spacecraft attached takes off from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on May 30, 2020 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, US. Picture: Getty Images/AFP


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Australia’s famous Parkes radio telescope will be part of one of the first commercial lunar landings, probably later this year.

The CSIRO, which operates the telescope, said it has a five-year agreement with US-based aerospace company Intuitive Machines to support multiple lunar missions, including their first flight under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative.

The 64m telescope in New South Wales will be the largest and most sensitive receiving ground station for Intuitive Machines’ upcoming missions.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the mission.

CSIRO said the Parkes telescope, also known as Murriyang, is valuable for spacecraft tracking due to its large dish surface and advanced data receiving systems, which are mostly used for astronomy research.

CSIRO's Parkes Radio Telescope media_cameraCSIRO’s Parkes Radio Telescope, situated outside the town of Parkes, NSW. Picture: Britta Campion/The Australian

CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said the partnership is an exciting new chapter for the Dish.

“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,” Dr Marshall said.

CSIRO’s acting chief scientist Sarah Pearce said CSIRO is 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.

“Along with 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,” said Dr Pearce.

media_cameraThe screen at the Parkes telescope that showed the first vision of Neil Armstrong’s historic Moon walk in 1969. David Cooke took pictures inside the control room at the time. Picture: David Cooke

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

NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative companies are responsible for delivering their cargo to the Moon, including spacecraft tracking and communication.

NASA has urged CLPS providers to use ground station support other than NASA’s Deep Space Network, the ground station network supporting the Agency’s many interplanetary space missions.

Intuitive Machines vice president for control centres Troy LeBlanc said being the first commercial company to land on the Moon is a huge communications challenge. “We require the technical support and expertise* of the team at CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope to provide mission tracking and data downlink* services,“ Dr LeBlanc said.

In addition to the 1969 Moon landing, Parkes supported the first interplanetary space mission, Mariner 2, in 1962, as it flew past Venus. Recently, Parkes received data from Voyager 2 as it entered interstellar space.

media_cameraArtist’s impression of NASA’s Voyager 1 (top) beyond our solar bubble into interstellar space, the space between stars, and Voyager 2 (bottom) still exploring the outer layer of the solar bubble. Picture: AFP/NASA/JPL-Caltech


  • critical: essential
  • innovation: new idea
  • expertise: specialist knowledge or skills
  • downlink: the link from one or more satellites down to a ground receiver


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  1. Where is the Parkes telescope?
  2. What is the famous event of 1969?
  3. How big is this telescope?
  4. What is the Parkes telescope about to do now?
  5. What is Falcon 9?


1. Mind mapping
This news story about the Parkes radio telescope mentions many different people, organisations, places, events (past and future) and relationships. As you read through the article, take notes, arranging them into a “mind map” to help you better understand how different pieces of information link to each other.

Your mind map doesn’t need to be perfectly presented or look the same as anyone else’s, as long as it is arranged in a way that adds to your comprehension of the story.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

2. Extension
What is the Parkes radio telescope also known as? Find out how it got this name and what it means.

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.

How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).

Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing? What are they? Can you sort them into their categories?

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