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Sodium Laser Imaging

Sodium Laser Imaging

The Ground-Based Sodium Laser Guide Star Imaging of 1U CubeSats experiment demonstrates an adaptive optics system for ground-based tracking and identification of 10 centimeter CubeSats, improving imaging systems used to avoid satellite collisions.

Customer: Booz Allen Hamilton
Research: Sodium Laser Imaging
NanoRacks Facility: Satellite Deployment
Mission Duration: 03/2015 – 09/2015
Mission Status: Complete
More Info: From NASA website


Research Overview
Adaptive optics is a method of continually adjusting a telescope to correct for distortions caused by the atmosphere, and usually requires a guide star for calibration. But sufficiently bright stars are not available in all parts of the sky, so some adaptive optics systems use lasers instead.

  • Obtaining sufficiently detailed images of satellites using natural guide star adaptive optics from terrestrial telescopes has been difficult.
  • NanoRacks-Ground-Based Sodium Laser Guide Star Imaging of 1U CubeSats (NanoRacks-Centennial-1) images a 1U CubeSat sized object from the ground for Space Situational Awareness using optical imaging and a sodium laser guide star.
  • A sodium laser is used to correct for atmospheric distortion and improve image clarity in the telescope.
  • The laser does not image the object; therefore, the laser does not need to be pointed directly at the satellite during imaging and can be offset from the imaged object.
  • NanoRacks-Centennial-1 demonstrates that this imaging technique is safe to the satellite and does not impact operations through measurement of the laser energy by a photon detector positioned on the satellite.

Description
Sufficiently bright stars are not available in all parts of the sky, which greatly limits the usefulness of natural guide star adaptive optics. Instead, shining a laser into the atmosphere creates an artificial guide star. This star is positioned anywhere the telescope desires to point, opening up much greater amounts of the sky to adaptive optics. Sodium guide star lasers, along with improvements to the adaptive optics system sensitivity, makes it possible to reliably obtain satellite images with more accurate and precise details as an evolutionary step in development of space situational awareness technology.

NanoRacks-Ground-Based Sodium Laser Guide Star Imaging of 1U CubeSats (NanoRacks-Centennial-1) images a 1U CubeSat sized object from the ground for Space Situational Awareness using optical imaging and a sodium laser guide star. A sodium laser is used to correct for atmospheric distortion and improve image clarity in the telescope. The laser does not image the object; therefore, the laser does not need to be pointed directly at the satellite during imaging and can be offset from the imaged object.

NanoRacks-Centennial-1 demonstrates that this imaging technique is safe to the satellite and does not impact operations through measurement of the laser energy by a photon detector positioned on the satellite.

Applications
This investigation tests sodium lasers as a guide star for adaptive optics systems used to track small satellites. The laser does not harm the satellite, but makes it possible to obtain more accurate and precise satellite images, an important step toward developing a tracking system for all natural and manmade objects orbiting Earth.

Knowing where all objects are in relation to each other can help satellites avoid collisions. The investigation also demonstrates high-performance Advanced RISC Machines (ARM) based processors for data-intensive, short duration space missions.

Earth is surrounded by hundreds of thousands of natural and artificial objects, which include tiny micrometeoroids and large satellites for telecommunications, weather, military use and other applications. Space situational awareness is the ability to view and predict the locations of these objects, with a goal of avoiding collisions.

This investigation makes it possible to obtain images of very small satellites to improve space situational awareness efforts, heading off collisions and protecting satellites that benefit people on Earth.

Read more about the Sodium Laser Imaging Research.

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