ASTRONOC aims to establish near earth observation facilities for research and education in space object and debris optical tracking. Through its partnerships with the Purple Mountain Observatory and the Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics, it has established its first observation facility near the town of Bonnievale in the Western Cape. The facilities comprise fully automatic large field-of-view optical telescopes to carry out operational surveys of space debris in the geosynchronous orbit.
The main aim is to study the impact of space debris on space activities, which is attracting increasing attention globally. Many organisations involved in space science and technology, in particular satellite technology, have started to develop programmes and projects aimed at negating the effects of space debris. Particular attention is focused on the geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO), a scarce resource for space activity. The GEO ring is known to contain large amounts of debris as a result of past space activities, and this situation will worsen over future years. Hence, space debris analysis and the development of knowledge related to the astrodynamics and mechanics of non-celestial bodies in space, has become an important focus, prompting the need for observation facilities for monitoring satellites and debris generated by satellite activity.
At our first observation site in Bonnievale, the telescope platform will initially house two optical telescopes housed within two separate domes. The domes have been designed and manufactured locally in South Africa, together with the customised piers for attaching the equatorial telescope mounts.
The facility houses a full weather station with temperature, humidity, wind, cloud and rain sensors. A sky quality meter (SQM) provides sky pollution data, and an all-sky camera provides remote visualisation of the sky. The system is completely remotely controlled and monitored.