Geostare2: Small Telescopes Hunting For Wrecks (Astronomy)

It’s called Geostare2, it consists of two small but powerful single-mirror telescopes and promises not only to make astronomical observations but also to monitor satellites orbiting our planet. The two eyes sensitive to visible light are located inside the Tyvak-0130 nano-satellite, launched last May 15 by Space X. With the latest images received, the in-orbit check and commissioning of the satellite

Tyvak-0130 is a mission whose goal is to monitor satellites orbiting our planet, track debris in space and make astronomical observations.

Launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on May 15 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, the mission consists of a small miniaturized satellite with a very low weight, about 11 kilograms, and the size of a suitcase, built to advance the use of small, low-cost satellites for commercial applications.

In addition to an extremely stable position control system in space, which includes three star sensors and four reaction wheels , the Tyvak-0130 minisatellite load also includes an advanced optical telescope system, called Geostare2 , whose purpose is to test compact telescopes for the study of the so-called Space domain awareness (SDA) , ie the surveillance of space traffic and orbiting debris. Telescopes that about a month after the satellite reached its final destination have already sent thousands of very high resolution images of the Earth and space that testify to the successful completion of in-orbit checks and the commissioning of the satellite.

“The payload and the satellite are working very well and we are ahead of schedule with the checks,” says astrophysicist Wim de Vries , member of the Space Science and Security Program SSSP ) team at  Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (Llnl ). , the research laboratory run by the University of California which, together with Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems , is involved in the mission.

Composite image created using five shots obtained from the Geostare2 wide field telescope after an exposure of eight seconds. This image demonstrates the exceptional stability achieved by the Tyvak-0130 nano-satellite. In the center, the Andromeda galaxy is visible. Immediately to the right, the traces of two satellites moving in the telescope’s field of view. Credits:

To date, flying in a low earth orbit , at about 575 kilometers of altitude, Geostare2 has already captured more than 2,000 images of the Earth, as well as more than 2,500 images useful for tracking space debris. Among these images there is also the one you see here next to the Andromeda galaxy, created by putting together five shots obtained after an exposure of eight seconds from one of the two imagers of Geostare2: the wide field of view telescope.

“We are more than satisfied with the quality and resolution of the images we received from Tyvak-0130,” said Marc Bell , managing director of Terran Orbital , one of the companies of the Tyvak company. “So far our collaboration with Llnl has been incredibly successful and we are more than optimistic for the future”.

The study and monitoring of satellites in orbit around the Earth involves the detection, tracking, cataloging and identification of artificial objects, such as  active / inactive satellites , rocket stages or debris .

Above, a Tyvak dwarf satellite (right) and its case (left). Below, one of the two small space telescopes launched in 2018 with the previous Geostare1 mission. Credits: and Julie Russell / Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

To do this Geostare2 includes, as anticipated, two small but powerful optical telescopes. These are reflecting telescopes whose single mirror is built from a single block of very high purity fused silica. A compact nature that allows smaller imaging systems to function without compromising performance. These telescopes are also extremely robust, provide clearer images without interference from temperatures, and do not require focus adjustment in orbit.

The two compact telescopes technology, developed by Llnl and Tyvak under a four-year research and development agreement, replaces the primary and secondary mirror structures in standard telescopes with a single piece of solid glass, with optical shapes and reflective coatings on both ends of the glass. But what is most surprising of the two imagers is the size: they measure 8.5 centimeters in diameter and 14 centimeters in length. One of the two telescopes has a narrower field of view with high resolution, while the other has a large field of view with excellent sensitivity. The first is primarily intended for Earth observation. The second, managing to cover 3.9 seconds of arc per pixel,

With the completion of commissioning activities, Tyvak Company and Lawrence Livermore National Security Science and Technology Research and Development Laboratory will now focus on a series of experiments aimed at demonstrating the monitoring capabilities of telescopes, but will be also conducted on-demand observations related to terrestrial imaging and space sciences.

Featured image: The take-off of Falcon 9 from Kennedy Space Center on May 15 carrying, in addition to the 52 Starlink satellites, the Tyvak-0130 minisatellite. Credits: SpaceX

Provided by INAF

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