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Session 41 - Visible & UV Telescopes.
Display session, Thursday, January 08
Exhibit Hall,

[41.15] A Low-Cost "Stationary Eye" in the Sky

R. Koch, K. Lande, R. Mitchell, P. Wildenhain (U. Penn.), N. Hoang, J. Langford (Aurora Corp.)

We are developing a stationary, near the top of the atmosphere, astronomical observing system. The platform is a high altitude robotic aircraft (THESEUS) flying in anti-sense to Earth's rotation at a latitude where the plane's speed closely matches the local ground spin velocity. Thus, either an extended day or night viewing program of a given object can be achieved.

Our intention here concentrates on astronomical targets. The system consists of the following components. A low cost robotic aircraft that can fly at an altitude of about 25 km. for 30 to 40 hours with differential GPS navigation. Real time control of the aircraft and the observing instruments is either by on-board computer or from the ground via low altitude, commercial satellite communications systems (Iridium, Teledesic, etc.). (2) A siderostat-fed telescope of small f-ratio is attached to the aircraft via critically damped mechanical isolators. An electronic camera at the prime focus looks at a chosen astronomical target. (3) Image smear due to aircraft engine vibration will be eliminated by a combination of critically damped mechanical isolators and electronic CCD pixel jogging. Very precise piezo- electric driven transverse translation of the CCD camera will be used to compensate for wind induced drift of the image on the focal plane. Bright field stars will be used to drive the stabilizing system. (4) Data are stored on high capacity ruggedized hard drives similar to that used by the Mars Lander.

The Aurora THESEUS aircraft, whose design is based upon earlier models, is under development. The image stabilizing system components have been identified. An off-the-shelf data-storage device has been chosen. A first prototype telescope has been built and tested. Other optical configurations are possible and collaborators will be welcomed.

Program listing for Thursday