In May, a Dutch radio antenna on a Chinese satellite will be launched to other side of the Moon. It is a radio antenna that has been specially made to detect the weak radio signals from the very early Universe. The Netherlands Chinese Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE) was built by a team of scientists and engineers from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in Dwingeloo, the Radboud Radio Lab of Radboud University in Nijmegen, and the Delft-based company ISIS. It successfully passed the last assessment by the Chinese space agency last week. The instrument is being launched on board the Chinese Chang’e 4 relay satellite to a position behind the Moon.
Published by the editorial team, 18 April 2018
The successful final assessment of the instrument took place early April in Beijing, clearing the way for the integration of the radio antenna on the Chinese relay satellite later this month.
The Chinese partners complimented the good cooperation between Nijmegen, Delft and Dwingeloo. According to Albert-Jan Boonstra, project leader of ASTRON, the Chinese colleagues are also impressed by the quality, the large scientific frequency range and the sensitivity of the system.
Marc Klein Wolt, managing director of the Radboud Radio Lab, looks back with great satisfaction on the adventure so far: “Now that we are in the final phase of the two-year project with our Chinese partners, the Dutch team has had to accelerate enormously in the recent months to get the instrument ready for the launch. “The NCLE instrument was added to the mission relatively late. “The Chang’e 4 mission was like a moving bus that we were trying to catch”, explains Klein Wolt, “and we have just made it, mainly due to the enormous dedication and hard work of our teams.”
During the meeting in Beijing, the emphasis was mainly on testing the connection between the radio instrument and the satellite, and the possible specific risks that NCLE had on the Chang’e 4 mission were discussed in more detail. Zeger de Groot, system engineer of ISIS, explains that the NCLE antennas are made according to a completely new concept: “We have managed to convince the Chinese lunar program that the risks are acceptably low”. Professor Heino Falcke of Radboud University and principal investigator of NCLE is pleased with this outcome. “To get such an advanced instrument ready in such a short time and let it fly to the Moon is a great piece of Dutch engineering – I am very grateful to the whole team”.
Already in 2016, the Dutch Space Agency (NSO, the Netherlands Space Office) signed an agreement with the Chinese Space Agency (CNSA, Chinese National Space Administration) for this project, as a Memorandum of Understanding that was concluded a year earlier in the presence of the Dutch Space Agency. Chinese president Xi Jinping and King of the Netherlands Willem Alexander. “Parties from both countries worked hard on NCLE. In a short time, a high-level instrument has been built. Cooperation with the NCLE has brought researchers, instrument makers and scientists from both countries closer together,” explains Harry Förster from the NSO.At the end of April, the Dutch team will return to China to mount the instrument on the satellite. The launch is scheduled for 21 May.