The NASA Meter Class Autonomous Telescope: Ascension Island
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION HOUSTON TX LYNDON B JOHNSON SPACE CENTER
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The 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.
- Optical Detection and Detectors