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The NASA Meter Class Autonomous Telescope: Ascension IslandThe Meter Class Autonomous Telescope (MCAT) is the newest optical sensor dedicated to NASA s mission to characterize the space debris environment. It is the successor to a series of optical telescopes developed and operated by the JSC Orbital Debris Program Office (ODPO) to monitor and assess the debris environment in (1) Low Earth Orbit (LEO), (2) Medium Earth Orbit (MEO), and (3) Geosynchronous Orbit (GEO), with emphasis on LEO and GEO altitudes. A joint NASA-Air Force Research Labs project, MCAT is a 1.3m optical telescope dedicated to debris research. Its optical path and sensor yield a large survey fence at the cutting edge of current detector performance. It has four primary operational observing modes, two of which were not computationally feasible a decade ago. Operations are supported by a sophisticated software suite that monitors clouds and weather conditions, and controls everything from data collection to dome rotation to processing tens of GB of imagery data nightly. With fainter detection limits, precision detection, acquisition and tracking of targets, multi-color photometry, precision astrometry, automated reacquisition capability, and the ability to process all data at the acquisition rate, MCAT is capable of producing and processing a volume and quality of data far in excess of any current (or prior) ODPO operations. This means higher fidelity population inputs and eliminating the multi-year backlog from acquisition-to-product typical of optical campaigns. All of this is possible given a suitable observing location. Originally planned for the island of Legan, part of the Kwajalein Atoll Islands, recent developments have led to a change in venue. Specifically, the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance, or GEODSS, System of telescopes is the United States major tracking system for deep space. This network consists of telescopes in Maui, Hawaii; Diego Garcia (Indian Ocean), and Socorro, New Mexico. A fourth optical telescope, though smaller in size, has been operating in conjunction with this effort until recently in M.ron, Spain. With the M.ron site closing, a significant gap in longitude exists between the New Mexico and Diego Garcia sites. This longitudinal gap is well covered by placing a telescope on Ascension Island (7degrees 58'20" S, 14degrees 24'4"W), in the Atlantic Ocean. Ascension Island offers the benefits of both location and weather. The near equatorial location affords the opportunity to access under-sampled low-inclination orbits and new GEO longitudes, while simultaneously filling in the GEODSS longitudinal gap. Ascension Island is a volcanic, desert island, receiving only 7" of rain per year on average. With consistent trade winds blowing from the SSE direction off Africa, the combination of an island location with consistent winds will create the smooth laminar flow sought after by all astronomical sites, which creates stable atmospheric ('seeing') conditions. Finally, this low population island has minimal lighting, resulting in very dark skies, ideal for an observatory.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Johnson Space Center
Document Type
Lederer, S. M.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Stansbery, E. G.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Cowardin, H. M.
(Jacobs Technology, Inc. Houston, TX, United States)
Kervin, P.
(Air Force Research Lab., Detachment 15 Kihei Maui, HI, United States)
Hickson, P.
(British Columbia Univ. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
Date Acquired
August 27, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2013
Subject Category
Instrumentation And Photography
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Meeting: Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference
Location: Maui, HI
Country: United States
Start Date: September 10, 2013
End Date: September 13, 2013
Sponsors: Maui Economic Development Board
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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