Adaptive optics and space debris at the Australian National University

Friday, 01 August 2014 noon — 1 p.m. MST

AURA Lecture Hall

NOIRLab South Colloquia
FRANCOIS RIGAUT (Australian National University and Gemini South Visiting Astronomer.)

Space debris in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is becoming an increasing threat to satellite and spacecraft. A reliable and cost effective method for detecting possible collisions between orbiting objects is required to prevent an exponential growth in the number of debris. Current RADAR survey technologies used to monitor the orbits of thousands of space debris objects are relied upon to manoeuvre operational satellites to prevent possible collisions. A complimentary technique, ground-based laser LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) have been used to track much smaller objects with higher accuracy than RADAR, giving greater prediction of possible collisions and avoiding unnecessary manoeuvring. Adaptive optics will play a key role in any ground based LIDAR tracking system as a cost effective way of utilising smaller ground stations or less powerful lasers. The use of high power and high energy lasers for the orbital modification of debris objects will also require an adaptive optic system to achieve the high photon intensity on the target required for photon momentum transfer and laser ablation. EOS Space Systems have pioneered the development of automated laser space debris tracking for objects in low Earth orbit. The Australian National University have been developing an adaptive optics system to improve this space debris tracking capability at the EOS Space Systems Mount Stromlo facility in Canberra, Australia. The system is integrated with the telescope and commissioned as an NGS AO system before moving on to LGS AO and tracking operations. A pulsed laser propagated through the telescope is used to range the target using time of flight data. Adaptive optics is used to increase the maximum range and number or targets available to the LIDAR system, by correcting the uplink laser beam. Such a system presents some unique challenges for adaptive optics: high power lasers reflecting off deformable mirrors, high slew rate tracking, and variable off-axis tracking correction. A low latency real time computer system is utilized to control the systems, with a Shack-Hartmann wavefront sensor and deformable mirror running at 1500 frames per second. A laser guide star is used to probe the atmosphere and the tracked debris object is used as a natural guide star for tip-tilt correction.