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NASA Uses 500 kW Radar for Moon Mapping

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena used the Goldstone 70-meter radar dish in the Mojave Desert to map areas near the south pole of the moon with a resolution of 20 meters per pixel. The antenna sent a 500 kW 90-minute long radar stream 231,800 miles to the moon. The signals reflected from an area about 400-by-250 miles in size were received by two of Goldstone’s 34-meter antennas on Earth.

The data was used to create an animation depicting a future human lander descending to the surface of the moon and a flyover of the Shackleton Crater.

“The south pole of the moon certainly would be a beautiful place to explore,” said Doug Cooke, deputy associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We now know the South Pole has peaks as high as Mt. McKinley and crater floors four times deeper than the Grand Canyon. There are challenges that come with such rugged terrain, and these data will be an invaluable tool for advance planning of lunar missions.”

Scott Hensley, a scientist at JPL and lead investigator for the study said that the imagery was the next best thing to being on the moon.

“With these data we can see terrain features as small as a house without even leaving the office,” Hensley said.

The best resolution previously available was in the 1-kilometer pixel range with images from the Clementine spacecraft. Images with resolutions down to one meter should be available from the camera on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is scheduled to launch in late 2008.

Images and animations released Wednesday are available on the Internet.

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.