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


Maintaining Space Domain Awareness (SDA) of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) requires effective methods of tracking and characterization. Optical measurements of these objects are generally sparse due to limited access intervals and high angular rates. Light pollution and geographic obstructions may also preclude consistent observations. However, a mobile small aperture telescope grants the ability to minimize such environmental effects, thereby increasing capture likelihoods for objects within this regime. By enhancing LEO satellite visibility in this way, extensive orbital and visual data are obtainable.

An 8-inch Meade LX200GPS telescope equipped with a Lumenera SKYnyx2-0M CCD camera comprises the system that conducted observations of LEO. From 22 sessions spanning four months, 76 objects were imaged to provide a data set of 313 streak frames for initial orbit and photometric analyses. An Assumed Circular Orbit formulation provided considerable refinements in semimajor axis and eccentricity, up to one order of magnitude, when compared to a Gauss Extended method. Regarding the use of initial orbits for future pass predictions, the Assumed Circular Orbit angular positions indicated improvements up to 97.4% in accuracy and 65.7% in consistency over Gauss Extended. A photometric study placed the brightest observed visual magnitude at 3.60 mag, and the faintest visible at 9.47 mag. By converting brightness to a physical size, detected objects were approximately 23.8 meters at the largest and 40.6 centimeters at the smallest. Angles and brightness measurements of LEO satellites with mobile platforms may thus benefit the SDA effort.