Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


College of Engineering


Kira Abercromby

Advisor Department

Aerospace Engineering

Advisor College

College of Engineering


The following thesis regards the use of small aperture telescopes for space domain awareness efforts. The rapidly populating space domain was motivation for the development of a new operation scheme to conduct space domain awareness feasibility studies using small telescopes. Two 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescopes at the California Polytechnic State University and the Air Force Research Lab in Kirtland AFB, NM, in conjunction with a dedicated CCD camera and a commercial DSLR camera, were utilized to conduct optical observations on satellites in Earth orbit.

Satellites were imaged during August 2019, and from January 2020 to March 2020, resulting in the collection of 77 valid images of 16 unique satellites. These images were used to obtain celestial spherical coordinates, which were used in Gauss and Double-R angles-only initial orbit determination methods. Initial orbit determination methods successfully produced valid results, reaffirming the feasibility of using small aperture telescopes for such methods. These orbit determinations were used to propagate orbit states forward in time to determine the feasibility of future imaging of the targets with the same apparatus. Propagation results demonstrated that initial orbit determinations rapidly decayed in accuracy over distant times and are most accurate for immediate satellite passes. In addition, an attempt to combine multiple initial orbit determinations using Lambert’s problem solutions was made. Combination of these multiple initial orbit determinations resulted in either no orbit state accuracy improvement compared to individual initial orbit determinations, or a decrease in accuracy compared to these methods. Ultimately, efforts demonstrated that small telescope usage is feasible for orbit determination operations, however there may be a need for hardware and operational revisions to improve the ability of the apparatus.