RE: NASA/OIG to be replaced by USAF

From: Ted Molczan (molczan@rogers.com)
Date: Sat Dec 20 2003 - 08:16:24 EST

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    Kevin Fetter wrote:
    
    > This doesn't look good.
    
    It could be just the motivation we need to greatly advance our capabilities.
    
    
    > I wonder how it will effect heavens above and other services.
    > 
    > Look like you will have to pay for access.
    > 
    > This might put a dent in my satellite observing:(
    
    Why should it not have exactly the opposite effect?
    
    I believe that through technological improvement, we can greatly expand the
    number of objects that we track.
    
    By technology, I mean both hardware and software.
    
    There was a burst of software development in the mid to late 1980's, as
    reasonably powerful PCs became affordable for home use, but we have not fully
    exploited the enormous power of present day PCs.
    
    ObsReduce turns the observation reduction into mostly a point and click
    exercise. Something like it could/should have been written years ago. I wrote it
    in anticipation of the demise of OIG, but there is much more that can be done.
    
    I see a need for a similar program for planning observation sessions. ObsPlan
    would highly automate the process of target selection and the generation of
    finder charts. 
    
    It would support the use of priority lists. 
    
    It would handle mundane tasks like working around local obstacles. Imagine being
    able to define the contours of the horizon and other obstacles for an unlimited
    number of vantage points at your observing site, and having ObsPlan determine
    where you should stand to observe a particular object.
    
    Imagine always intercepting satellites when they pass good reference stars.
    
    Imagine knowing in advance the number and quality of reference stars that a
    satellite is likely to pass. Could be used to choose among multiple coincident
    targets of similar priority.
    
    We could also benefit from a web-based system to enable observers to find out
    which objects have the highest priority for observation at that time. They could
    download a master priority list, for use by ObsPlan to generate their nightly
    observation schedule. I envision providing observers the means to specify their
    personal priority objects, which would have the highest priority of all.
    
    While on the subject of improving support for observers, there is a crying need
    for a better method of timing than the stopwatch. We waste considerable time
    calibrating our stopwatches to UTC, and then computing the UTC of each obs.
    Clearly, we need self-calibrating timepieces that directly log UTC when we hit a
    button, and which will dump their data to a PC, to be read by programs like
    ObsReduce. Think of the time saved, and the errors avoided.
    
    We need to adopt orbital models that can fit observations and make accurate
    predictions over very long arcs - months and years, instead of days and weeks.
    
    SGP4/SDP4 are accurate over fairly short arcs, but the USAF has the brute force
    ability to generate frequent observations and updates, so it is not much a
    problem for them.
    
    Through the use of better gravitational, drag and SRP models, we could get much
    more out of our limited number of observations, and decrease their required
    frequency.
    
    Keep in mind that we have a vast quantity of historical data, both our
    observations and official 2-line elements, which we can use to develop and
    verify our new models.
    
    I envision a two-tiered system. A sophisticated model for orbit determination
    and maintenance, with the ability to automatically generate SGP4/SDP4
    equivalents for generating predictions.
    
    We also need more automated orbit determination software.
    
    Greg Roberts has led the way on the hardware front, with his computer-aimed
    video system, and Peter Wakelin and Rainer Kracht are getting great results with
    still cameras. This is another area of huge potential. It would be great if
    affordable systems could be built for use by non-hardware experts.
    
    Ted Molczan
    
    
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