AAS 99-172

Preliminary Results from the NASA orbital Debris Observatory

J.V. Lambert*, J.L. Africano*, E.G. Stansbery**

*Boeing North American, ** NASA/JSC


To gain a better understanding of the LEO and MEO (low and middle earth orbit) optical orbital debris environments, especially in the important, but difficult to track one to ten centimeter size range, NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) has built a zenith-staring Liquid Mirror Telescope (LMT) neat Cloudcroft, NM. The mirror of the LMT consists of a three-meter diameter parabolic dish containing several gallons of mercury that is spun at a rate of 10 revolutions per minute. A disadvantage of the LMT is its inability to point in any direction other than the zenith. However, this is not a major limitation for statistical sampling of the LEO and MEO orbital debris population. While the LMT is used for the characterization of the LEO and MEO orbital debris environments, its inability to point off zenith limits its utility for the GEO environment where objects are concentrated over the equator. To gain a better understanding of the GEO debris environment, NASA JSC has built a CCD Debris Telescope (CDT). The CDT is a 12.5-inch aperture Schmidt portable telescope with automated pointing capability. The CDT is presently co-located with the LMT. The CDT can see down to 17.1 magnitude in a 30 second exposure with a 1.5 degree field of view. This corresponds to a ten percent reflective, 0.8-meter diameter object at geosynchronous altitude. Both telescopes are used every clear night and we present preliminary results.