Breakthrough Telescope Enables New View of Neptune's Moon

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by Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington D.C.) Scientists have now hit a breakthrough space exploration development which might one day allow astronomers to view Neptune’s largest moon in a new light, approximately 2.8 billion miles away. Microwave signals, traveling at the speed of light, would not reach back to earth at this distance for as long as eight hours … difficult to envision in some respects given what we know about the speed of light.

It could be called a moment for the history books, and quite timely in light of recent breakthroughs related to solar system exploration … a new high frequency radar system was able to receive a return rendering from the Apollo 15 moon landing site, a development which opens the door to further ground-breaking space explorations likely to bring scientific, commercial and military advantages.

Last November, Raytheon Intelligence & Space partnered, with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to conduct a first-of-its kind transmission with the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope.

It is a defining moment in that it may make new, even potentially unexpected, levels of space imaging and exploration than was previously thought to be beyond our reach.

Using a transmitter installed on GBT and the Very Long Baseline Array, 10 -radio antenna spanning from Hawaii to Saint Croix, received signals reflected back to earth ~~using the GBT.~~. The basic breakthrough, as explained by Raytheon scientist Steven Wilkinson, was to take GBT, which had been purely a receiver, and add a “transmitter” to it, so it could send a signal or “ping” at a target to then analyze the return signal, as radar does.

“It was an empty container when we got it, which previously had a radio astronomy receiver in it. We got an empty container with a few cooling fans and some electrical wires left over from the previous experiment. We took all of that off and made a few new panels to support the transmit hardware. Once we had it refurbished, we installed commercial off the shelf items to create the transmitter,” Steven Wilkinson, Principal Engineering Fellow at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, told The National Interest in an interview.

Traveling at the speed of light, the electromagnetic pings transmitted from the telescope introduce the possibility of detecting objects, some considered threats~~,~~ to the earth, and at much farther distances, something which of course , is of great relevance and improves safety and well as strategic efforts for the country. For example, A Raytheon paper explains that the telescope could bring success to critical efforts to detect and therefore provide early warning to potentially stop asteroids or other Near Earth Objects from descending upon earth in any kind of a dangerous way.

The GBO engineers, Wilkinson explained, added a horn antenna to the transmitter, designed to fill the entire 100 meter GBT aperture.

“We helped the GBO/NRAO turn the telescope into a transmitter. For years, it has only been a receiver and so that is the big breakthrough. We put a transmitter into a Prime Focus Housing and GBO engineers also added a Ku-band receiver for pointing and calibration, and the horn antenna previously mentioned. Now it is off to the next step to make it a permanent transmitter,” he explained. “Now the radar transmitter will be designed as a separate operation instrument on GBT. . Raytheon and NRAO/GBO scientists are now conducting advanced work with computer algorithms to analyze the data and improve image quality from the “raw data,” a Raytheon essay explains.

The experimental technology was developed as part of a cooperative research and development agreement between NRAO and Raytheon Intelligence & Space, originally announced in March 2020.

“Today’s optical systems make the first discovery of an asteroid but have difficulty making accurate measurements on smaller asteroids…that is where radar provides the critical information....and often our current planetary radars just aren’t strong enough to detect them until they are really close to earth; however, that will soon change.”

This development sets a precedent in that it may open the door to even more extensive progress in the future to expand the telescope’s detection ranges as well as data analysis technologies engineered to help produce the best possible “rendering” of a return signal.

GBT Telescope

“A high power transmitter at Ka-band would be able to collect a return from Neptune’s moon Triton. We should be able to see some of the moons of the outer planets,” Wilkinson explained.

Experiments to date show that the Green Bank Telescope can function as a transmitter and deliver a higher resolution long-range radar image than has ever existed before Part of why Raytheon Intelligence & Space as well as the NRAO are working together on the Green Bank Telescope radar system. The potential for farther ranges and detection of smaller objects at higher levels of resolution~~.~~ is the next step for planetary radar. Scientifically, developers explain that by not needing to rely upon a light source, the sun, radar signals are the source of illumination and changes of the signal upon return provide the information needed to characterize the object.

Tony Beasley, NRAO director explains that, depending upon distance, the GBT might be able to actually “image” the target, determine precise elements of its composition and even discern whether it is rotating, providing unprecedented levels of detailed imaging to scientists on earth.

These developments have even led some Raytheon ~~a~~nd NRAO scientists to think that receiving images from even Neptune or Uranus might be within the realm of the possible.

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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