Engineering has been awarded the contract for the design, manufacture and installation of NASA's Meter-Class
Autonomous Telescope (MCAT)
NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) are collaborating to place the 1.3m MCAT system on the Kwajalein
Atoll Island of Legan.
Research, imaging and characterization of space debris will be the cornerstone of space surveillance by
AFRL, a core technical capability required to support US national interests in space.
DFM's expertise in optical telescopes and instrumentation will augment coordinating the MCAT system
with the AMOS research to further develop basic space situational awareness (SSA)
and related technologies. It will ultimately support Air Force mission areas with characterization of space
objects and orbital debris from ground-based and space-based sensors.
Optical telescopes and radar are tools used to obtain a more complete picture of the orbital debris environment.
Each of these tools sees a somewhat different debris environment. Some debris objects will reflect radar
well, but sunlight poorly; while some will reflect sunlight well, but radar poorly.
An advantage to using an optical telescope rather than radar is that telescopes can more easily detect
debris objects in higher altitudes, such as geosynchronous (GEO)
DFM Engineering will design, manufacture and install the optics, optical
tube assembly, the telescope
mount and telescope
control system. The DFM team will also perform the component and system tests. This includes
factory integration/acceptance tests and site integration/acceptance tests.
The telescope instrument uses a back-illuminated, 4k charge coupled device (CCD)
full frame image sensor with a 15μm pixels.
The MCAT telescope will have a diagonal field of view of nearly one degree and operate in several different
modes. During twilight hours it will sample low inclination, low-Earth orbit (LEO)
space debris in either a "stare and chase" or "rate track" mode.
In the middle of the night, it will perform a conventional geographic Earth orbit GEO search.
With detection sensitivity down to 1cm diameter at LEO and 10cm at GEO, MCAT is expected to make a valuable
contribution to our understanding of the space orbital debris environment.
The telescope mount has been completed and tested in the shop. The optics have been individually figured
and tested in the DFM Engineering optical shop. The final all-up optical system test in autocollimation will
be preformed soon.
Currently the Kwajalein facility design is complete and site preparations are underway. The MCAT system
is scheduled to be deployed in the summer of 2011 as part of the AMOS High Accuracy Network Orbit Determination
System (HANDS) for the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Autonomous Telescope project: more info . . .
Atoll island of Legan