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DARPA hands space junk spotting scope to US Air Force

Space Surveillance Telescope can spot specks of shiny 36,000km away

By Richard Chirgwin, 23 Oct 2016

The Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) is on track for its transfer to a site in Australia later this year.

Late last week, DARPA handed the SST over to the US Air Force, which will operate the space junk and comet hunter from a site in Western Australia in conjunction with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Its next destination is the Harold E Holt naval communication station near Exmouth, WA.

The SST is a 3.5 metre telescope able to survey the entire geostationary belt within its field of view multiple times each night, spotting the very faint light coming from space debris 36,000 km away.

With DARPA-developed charge-coupled devices and a steeply curved primary mirror that gives it a large field of view, the SST is “an order of magnitude” more sensitive than the existing Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Telescope (GEODSS), DARPA's SST program manager Lindsay Millard told Space News.

She said the geostationary orbit contains “volume of tens of thousands of oceans. Before SST, no single telescope could handle both of these challenges: seeing things that are very small, very faint, and very far away, simultaneously over an enormously vast area.”

GEODSS can track objects roughly the size of a basketball; the SST takes that down to objects the size of a softball.

“The mission is made especially difficult because of the huge amount space we're talking about,” Millard told the handover ceremony – tens of thousands of oceans, she explained.

DARPA Deputy Director Dr Steven Walker likened existing telescopes to looking at the sky “through a straw”, whereas the SST is more like “a windshield”; its field of view is a quarter of the sky, and it can track 10,000 objects at a time.

The handover ceremony vid is below. ®

Youtube Video

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