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Project Diana, named for the Roman goddess of the Moon Diana, was an experimental project of the US Army Signal Corps in 1946 to bounce radar signals off the Moon and receive the reflected signals. This was the first experiment in radar astronomy and the first attempt to actively probe another celestial body. It was the inspiration for later EME (Earth-Moon-Earth) communication techniques.
At a laboratory at Camp Evans (part of Fort Monmouth), in Wall Township, New Jersey, a large transmitter, receiver and antenna array were constructed for this purpose. The transmitter, a highly modified SCR-271 radar set from World War II, provided 50 kilowatts at 111.5 MHz in 1⁄4-second pulses, applied to the antenna, a "bedspring" reflective array antenna composed of an 8x8 array of half wave dipoles in front of a reflector which provided 24 dB of gain. Reflected signals were received about 2.5 seconds later, the time required for the radio waves to make the 768,000-kilometre (477,000 mi) round-trip journey from the Earth to the Moon and back. The receiver had to compensate for the Doppler shift in frequency of the reflected signal due to the Moon's orbital motion relative to the Earth's surface, which was different each day, so this motion had to be carefully calculated for each trial. The antenna could be rotated in azimuth only, so the attempt could be made only as the moon passed through the 15 degree wide beam at moonrise and moonset, as the antenna's elevation angle was horizontal. About 40 minutes of observation was available on each pass as the Moon transited the various lobes of the antenna pattern.
Project Diana marked the birth of radar astronomy later used to map Venus and other nearby planets, and was a necessary precursor to the US space program. It was the first demonstration that terrestrial radio signals could penetrate the ionosphere, opening the possibility of radio communications beyond the earth for space probes and human explorers. It also established the practice of naming space projects after Roman gods, e.g., Mercury and Apollo.
Today, the Project Diana site is maintained by the Infoage Science/History Learning Center.
Project Diana demonstrated the feasibility of using the Moon as a passive reflector to transmit radio signals from one point on the Earth to the other, around the curve of the Earth. This Earth-Moon-Earth (EME) or "moonbounce" path has been used in a few communication systems. One of the first was the secret US military espionage PAMOR (Passive Moon Relay) program in 1950, which sought to eavesdrop on Soviet Russian military radio communication by picking up stray signals reflected from the Moon. The return signals were extremely faint, and the US began secret construction of the largest parabolic antenna in the world at Sugar Grove, West Virginia, until the project was abandoned in 1962 as too expensive. A more successful spinoff was the US Navy Communication Moon Relay or Operation Moonbounce communication system, which used the EME path for US military communication. In January 1960 the system was inaugurated with a lunar relay link between Hawaii and Washington DC.
Moonbounce communication was abandoned by the military with the advent of communications satellites in the early 1960s. However it was used by amateur radio operators beginning in the 1960s and is still used by them today.
- Gootée, Tom (April 1936). "Radar reaches the moon" (PDF). Radio News (Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.) 35 (4): 25–27. Retrieved September 9, 2014.
- Butrica, Andrew J. (1996). To See the Unseen: A History of Planetary Radar Astronomy. NASA. Archived from the original on 2007-08-23.
- Dewitt, J.H., Jr.; Stodola, E.K. (March 1949). Detection of Radio Signals Reflected from the Moon. Proceedings of the IRE 37 (3): 229–242. doi:10.1109/JRPROC.1949.231276.
- Radar Echoes From the Moon, by Jack Mofenson of the Evans Signal Laboratory, Belmar N.J., January 1946.
- IEEE Global History Network.
- Butrica, Andrew J. To See the Unseen: A History of Planetary Radar Astronomy. (NASA SP4218, 1996).