Observing geosynchronous satellites

Allen Thomson (thomsona@netcom.com)
Sun, 21 Apr 1996 15:48:39 -0700

   A while ago we were discussing observations of geosynchronous 
satellites by amateur satellite watchers with commercially available 
equipment.  I had the good fortune to be able to attend the fourteenth 
running of the annual space surveillance symposium at the MIT Lincoln 
Laboratory in Lexington, MA, USA this year, and, mirabile dictu, there
was a paper on a closely related topic.  Here is my summary of the 
presentation and the corresponding paper in the conference proceedings: 

   PIMS [Passive Imaging Metric Sensor]: Progress Report on a Deep-
   Space Metric Sensor Project
   by J. Dick, A. Sinclair (Royal Greenwich Observatory, Cambridge, 
   UK), P. Liddell (Defence Research Agency, UK) and D. Holland 
   (Ministry of Defence, UK)
   Proceedings of the 1996 Space Surveillance Workshop
   Lincoln Laboratory, MIT
   April 2-4, 1996
   K.P. Schwan, editor
   Project Report STK-245, Vol.1
       In June of 1995 the UK Ministry of Defence entered into 
   discussions with the Royal Greenwich Observatory to develop a 
   space surveillance system to monitor the part of the 
   geosynchronous belt where the MoD operates military 
   communications satellites.  A contract was let to RGO in 
   September, and engineering testing of the system began in 
   January 1996 at Greenwich.  It is anticipated that the system 
   will be installed in a three-meter astronomical dome on either 
   Gibraltar or Cyprus and that full operational capability will be 
   attained in the summer of 1996.  The system consists of a Meade 
   16-inch telescope on a computer-controlled tripod mount, a CCD 
   camera, a Power Macintosh computer with three CD ROM drives to 
   access the Hubble Guide Star Catalogue or other star catalogue, 
   and software to support automatic detection of satellites.
   Tasking can be done remotely by modem, which will be used 
   also for transferring the results of the observations to the UK.
   The system is expected to be able to detect geosynchronous 
   satellites as faint as visual magnitude 18, roughly 
   corresponding to meter-sized objects of average albedo.  Because 
   all astrometric measurements are made by reference to the star 
   field and the HGSC, the mount's angle encoders need not be 
   extremely accurate.