Officials in Beijing are intent on developing China’s space program, and construction of the biggest radio telescope in the world is one way to do so.

The huge dish, which is found in the mountainous terrain of southwest China’s Guizhou Province, is designed to detect sounds from outer space. It is the first radio telescope to be built in China, and will allow the Chinese space program to collect data independently, writes Kelsey Warner for The Christian Science Monitor.

China Is Building The World's Largest Radio Telescope, But Why?

China’s space program developing fast

The Xinhua news agency reports that Wu Xiangping, director-general of the Chinese Astronomical Society, said Chinese scientists have long relied on data collected by space programs from around the world, which impeded their progress.

With a perimeter of approximately one mile, the dish will be the largest radio telescope in the world. Its isolated position, without a town within three miles, makes it a great spot for minimizing sound interference.

“Having a more sensitive telescope, we can receive weaker and more distant radio messages. It will help us to search for intelligent life outside of the galaxy and explore the origins of the universe,” Mr. Wu said.

Other signs of Beijing’s commitment to its space program were evident two months ago, when officials announced plans to make the first landing on the far side of the moon. It is thought that the mission may be completed by 2020.

Beijing has also declared an interest in becoming part of the International Space Station project. China is banned from ISS programs due to a 2011 law passed by U.S. Congress, which prevents official American contact with China’s space programs due to national security concerns.

Arecibo Observatory loses title of most powerful radio telescope

The title of the most powerful radio telescope is currently held by the U.S.-run Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. However China’s new addition, known as FAST, will reportedly steal that title at some point in 2016.

On Thursday, work began to assemble the telescope’s reflector, which measures 300 feet in diameter and is made of 4,450 panels. To give you a better idea of the scale of the reflector, each panel is an equilateral triangle with sides approximately 36 feet in length.

Xinhua reports that the dish will be suspended from thousands of steel pillars and cables, which hold it in position above the ground. Passages below the dish will enable easy maintenance, while visitors will be able to observe the telescope from a platform on a hill close to the site.

Incredible capabilities could aid search for alien life

Chief engineer Zheng Yuangpeng claims that the panels can be moved to an accuracy of 1mm. According to Nan Rendong, chief scientist of the FAST project with the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that a larger dish is able to receive weaker messages from outer space.

“A radio telescope is like a sensitive ear, listening to tell meaningful radio messages from white noise in the universe. It is like identifying the sound of cicadas in a thunderstorm,” he said.

The powerful new telescope could help scientists in the search for extraterrestrial life. As humans learn more about space, it is becoming stranger and stranger that we have not found signs of life in the Universe. Perhaps China’s new telescope could lead to a breakthrough in that search and in other fields.