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

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. As vice president of Broadcast Technology for NBCUniversal Local, H. Douglas Lung leads NBC and Telemundo-owned stations’ RF and transmission affairs, including microwave, radars, satellite uplinks, and FCC technical filings. Beginning his career in 1976 at KSCI in Los Angeles, Lung has nearly 50 years of experience in broadcast television engineering. Beginning in 1985, he led the engineering department for what was to become the Telemundo network and station group, assisting in the design, construction and installation of the company’s broadcast and cable facilities. Other projects include work on the launch of Hawaii’s first UHF TV station, the rollout and testing of the ATSC mobile-handheld standard, and software development related to the incentive auction TV spectrum repack.
A longtime columnist for TV Technology, Doug is also a regular contributor to IEEE Broadcast Technology. He is the recipient of the 2023 NAB Television Engineering Award. He also received a Tech Leadership Award from TV Tech publisher Future plc in 2021 and is a member of the IEEE Broadcast Technology Society and the Society of Broadcast Engineers.