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J. L. Africano, J. V. Lambert (Boeing), E. G. Stansbery (NASA/JSC), A. E. Potter (LPI), M. Mulrooney (NASA Orbital Debris Observatory)
The NASA Johnson Space Center is conducting observations with a three-meter aperture liquid mirror telescope (LMT) from a site near Cloudcroft NM. The zenith-staring telescope, utilizing a rotating pool of mercury as its primary mirror, is used primarily for the detection and monitoring of manmade debris in Earth orbit. The LMT with its prime focus CCD camera is capable of detecting objects down to two centimeters in low Earth orbit. Data collected during the quick transits of objects through the field-of-view provide surprisingly accurate estimates of size and orbital parameters which are used to generate debris populations and orbital distributions. Intrusion of the Earth's shadow into the LMT's orbital coverage volume restricts monitoring activities to a few hours at morning and evening twilight. During the remainder of the night, the LMT serves as an astronomical survey instrument proving deep, about 23 Mv, cataloging of stellar and non-stellar objects including near-Earth objects and comets in a half-degree band at thirty-three degrees north declination. The predicted detection limit for NEOs moving at 5 deg/day is 23.2 Mv, dropping to 21.9 Mv for NEOs moving at 50 deg/day. The annual sky coverage for NEO surveys would be about 7000 square degrees, and the estimated rate of discovery would be about 300 new NEO detections per year.