Spaceflight Insider

International Lunar Observatory to offer a new astrophysical perspective

The International Lunar Observatory on the south pole of the Moon.

Artist’s illustration of the International Lunar Observatory on the south pole of the Moon. Image Credit: Michael Carroll / ILOA

Scheduled to be sent to the south pole of the Moon sometime in 2019, the International Lunar Observatory is expected to conduct the first international astrophysical observations from the lunar surface. The mission managers hope that it will offer a brand new astrophysical perspective for scientists worldwide.

The International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and Moon Express have recently inked a deal for the landing of the first International Lunar Observatory on the Moon. Under this contract, the mission named ILO-1 would land on the Malapert Mountain – a 3.1-mile tall peak in the Aitken Basin region that is bathed in sunshine most of the time and has an uninterrupted direct line of sight to Earth.

ILOA states that the main goal of the mission is to “expand human understanding of the Galaxy and Cosmos through observation and communication from [the] Moon”. To achieve this, ILO-1 will be equipped with a set of instruments for radio and optical astronomy purposes.

ILO-1 on the Moon

Artist’s rendition of ILO-1 on the Moon. Image Credit: Canadensys Aerospace

“The observatory payload includes the possible primary instrument, a two-meter dish antenna – for observation and communications functions – as well as potential secondary instruments such as an optical telescope, star finder, ultra-violet camera or others. The ILO-1 can be scaled to fit final project budget and is designed to be adaptable to various launch vehicle providers and spacecraft platforms,” Steve Durst, Founding Director of ILOA, told

The payload of the ILO-1 mission will be provided by Toronto-based Canadensys Aerospace Corporation. The instruments will allow the observatory to image our Milky Way galaxy and to conduct international astrophysical observations and communications from the lunar surface.

The launch of the mission is currently scheduled for no earlier than 2019. While the spacecraft and its payload will be built by commercial companies, the mission itself might be launched into space by India’s state-owned Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), most likely atop its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) – the talks are underway. Durst underlines that the ILO-1 mission is indeed a real international effort.

“Right now the ILO-1 project includes a globally distinguished board of directors, day to day functioning executive committee, spacecraft contractor (Moon Express), a payload contractor (Canadensys Aerospace), a launch provider (India’s PSLV), cooperative memorandum of understanding with the Canada–France–Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC), and an operating partnership comprised of international organizations, agencies, and institutions who are participating in the mission,” he noted.

Durst revealed that ILO-1 is being designed to be able to sustain itself through the lunar night. Therefore, it could potentially continue to operate for multiple Earth months or even years independently on the lunar surface. Moreover, it could be also potentially serviced and upgraded by subsequent human missions to the Moon.



Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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