NASA - MCAT Telescope System


mcat observatory locationDFM Engineering has been awarded the contract for the design, manufacture and installation of NASA's Meter-Class Autonomous Telescope (MCAT) system.

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.

nasa mcat telescope

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) orbits.

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.

nasa mcat telescope

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.

Meter-Class Autonomous Telescope project: more info . . .

Kwajalein Atoll island of Legan