FORT COLLINS, Colo. (Aug. 28, 2020) — A groundbreaking development in space object detection and tracking, Numerica has built the first fully-functional, low-cost telescope system that can observe Earth-orbiting satellites in broad daylight at altitudes of more than 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles).
This patented technology is the result of several years of internal research and development efforts to meet the growing demand for daytime satellite observation given the increasingly congested and contested space environment. In the past, the bright sky limited ground-based telescopes to night-only operation, creating a gap in gathering and analyzing vital space data for military, civil and commercial interests.
Two prototype daytime-capable telescope systems have been successfully tested and deployed by Numerica’s Space Domain Awareness (SDA) team to sites in Colorado and Australia, with several more deployments underway. Initial testing proved these systems to be capable of detecting objects from low Earth orbit (LEO) to geosynchronous orbit (GEO) both day and night. Numerica received a U.S. patent on Aug. 11, 2020 for detecting such space objects using shortwave infrared (SWIR) sensors during daytime hours without the use of cryogenic cooling components, a notable time and cost-saving alternative to existing approaches under development.
“Our technology is enabled by high-speed shortwave infrared cameras, customized optics and advanced algorithms,” said Jeff Shaddix, principle investigator for daytime tracking at Numerica. “A daytime sky background creates an extreme shot noise environment. We collect 15 GB/minute from our cameras and apply image processing algorithms that fuse the data to reduce the noise to near theoretical limits. This enables detection of dim satellite signals beyond what is typically achievable for standard optical systems.”
This breakthrough technology received $750,000 in funding last November as part of the Small Business Innovation Research awards made during the inaugural Air Force Space Pitch Day. More recently, Numerica has received an additional $2.25 million to help bring this technology to market and to help proliferate it worldwide.
Trial satellite observation data is available and stems from integration of the daytime tracking systems with the broader Numerica Telescope Network (NTN). The NTN is comprised of more than 130 optical sensors spanning 18 sites worldwide, which offers the most complete commercially-available on-demand deep-space catalog.
“Until now, there has not been a daytime tracking solution capable of global proliferation, let alone a commercial daytime tracking service,” said Jeff Aristoff, VP of space systems at Numerica. “Closing the ground-based optical coverage gap will significantly enhance space domain awareness and space traffic management missions.”
Daytime tracking represents a major innovation for the commercial space domain awareness market, increasing the observation opportunities on LEO to GEO satellites and enabling the potential for a global network of low-cost telescopes to maintain custody of satellites through the current daylight coverage gap. Numerica plans to continue maturing this technology and integrating additional systems with its existing telescope network.
Numerica will showcase this new capability at the virtual Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS) conference Sept. 15-18, 2020. Learn more and book an appointment here: amostech.com.
For more information about Numerica’s daytime tracking, visit www.numerica.us/daytime-satellite-tracking/.
About Numerica: Founded in 1996, Numerica focuses on creating innovative solutions to the most pressing technical challenges faced by customers in the areas of air and missile defense and space domain awareness. Headquartered in Fort Collins, and with a satellite office in Colorado Springs, Numerica’s rapidly growing team of talented research scientists and engineers tackle data science problems by developing advanced algorithms to power mission-critical national security software. The SDA mission involves the detection, tracking, identification and characterization of all Earth-orbiting objects and the prediction of events, threats, and activities in space. Numerica’s state-of-the-art technologies have been deployed around the world to integrate networks, fuse data, precisely track targets, and quantify uncertainty. Learn more at www.numerica.us.