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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 gigabytes of image data nightly. With fainter detection limits, precision detection, acquisition and tracking of targets, multi-color photometry, precision astrometry, automated re-acquisition 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. Ascension Island offers numerous advantages. As a British overseas territory with a US Air Force base presence, the necessary infrastructure and support already exists. It is located mid-way between Brazil and Africa at 7.93S latitude and 14.37 W longitude. With the Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) asset in Moron, Spain shutting down, this presents access to the sky from a unique latitude/longitude for an optical telescope. Constant trade winds from the SSE, originating from Africa, give promise to a steady laminar airflow over an island, a trait sought after to create stable atmospheric and good astronomical 'seeing' conditions with very low annual rainfall values. This combination of attributes created the necessary compelling argument to redirect MCAT to its final destination: Ascension Island.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
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)
Hickson, P.
(British Columbia Univ. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)
Pace, L. F.
(NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Abercromby, K. J.
(California Polytechnic State Univ. San Luis Obispo, CA, United States)
Kervin, P. W.
(Air Force Research Lab., Detachment 15 Kihei Maui, HI, United States)
Date Acquired
April 10, 2014
Publication Date
September 10, 2013
Subject Category
Report/Patent Number
Meeting Information
Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS)(Maui, HI)
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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