PanSTARRS: Astronomy & Asteroid Assessment
Kirkland AFB, NM recently entered into a cooperative effort with the University of Hawaii of Honolulu, Hawaii under the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (PanSTARRS) multi-year program.
PanSTARRS will address numerous science applications ranging from the structure of the Solar System to the properties of the Universe of the largest scales. It will also be able to detect and catalog large numbers of earth-orbit crossing asteroids, or near earth objects (NEO) that present a potential threat to mankind. That last component to the mission is especially intriguing, as there is a long history of partial efforts in this direction within the US and elsewhere. So, where does this award fit in?
- PanSTARRS and its Predecessors [updated]
- Contracts & Key Events [updated]
- Additional Readings [updated]
PanSTARRS and its Predecessors
In many ways, PanSTARRS appears to be a replacement of existing efforts that have faltered, including GEODSS and NEAT. Kirtland AFB replied to DID:
“GEODSS is not involved in NEO (Near-Earth Object) work. Although “Planetary Defense” was an AF mission at one point, or at least showed up in Mission Needs statements, that was removed some time ago. At one point NEAT was located on one of the GEODSS telescopes on Maui. Because it interfered with the normal GEODSS mission, and because NEO disappeared from the AF mission, AFSPC paid AFRL to modify the 1.2-meter telescope to accommodate NEAT at prime focus. The NEAT camera was then moved to the 1.2 at AMOS.
Although the NEAT (Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking) program used the 1.2-meter telescope for a number of years, the NEAT camera was removed from the mount over a year ago and is being sent back to JPL. JPL and NASA were not paying customers for this program, the O&M was supplied by AFRL/RDSM using CA funding. When notified that AFRL funding was no longer available for support of NEAT, JPL responded that they did not have funding either. That’s when the NEAT program began to shut down. NEAT still has another camera at Palomar. At this point in time, GEODSS does not support the NEO mission, and the NEAT camera is no longer used on Maui.”
The new 1400-megapixel PS1 camera is expected to uncover 100,000 new asteroids. As a condition of funding, however, the USAF requires that Pan-STARRS software automatically black out the trajectories of passing satellites. In 2009, that restriction apparently meant usable images from 68% of the total sky at any given time, forcing additional observation sessions for blacked-out areas at more suitable times. As of March 2010, however, improvements in image processing have reportedly boosted the figure to 76% viewing field availability.
Contracts and Key Events
These contracts are managed by Detachment 8 at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. As a glance at the numbering will confirm, some contracts in this set have been too small for the Air Force to announce.
June 30/10: University of Hawaii in Honolulu receives an $8.4 million contract modification under the PanSTARRS multi-year program to develop and deploy a telescope data management system for the project. At this time, all funds have been committed (FA9451-06-2-0338; P00008).
May 13/09: The University of Hawaii in Honolulu, HI receives a $7.35 million contract modification for another year of the PanSTARRS program. At this time, the entire amount has been obligated (FA9451-06-2-0338, P00006).
April 1/08: An $8 million contract modification for another year of the PanSTARRS multi-year program. At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA9451-06-2-0338, P00002).
May 17/06: University of Hawaii in Honolulu, HI received a $6 million cooperative agreement contract for the PanSTARRS multi-year program. At this time, total funds have been obligated. Solicitations began in March 2006, negotiations were complete in May 2006, and the contract will run until May 2007 (FA9451-06-2-0338).
The initial effort to develop and deploy a telescope data management system was awarded via a Grant to the University of Hawaii (considered a Minority Institute) and “as the various phases progressed, the Air Force determined that a Cooperative Agreement would be the more appropriate instrument as now we would be substantially involved.” Hence this award.
- University of Hawaii – Pan-STARRS, a project of the Institute for Astronomy. See also the Institute for Astronomy, Maui, who performs the PanSTARRS work at Haleakala.
- Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics – Links to Organizations and network resources on Near Earth Asteroids
- NASA – Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT). Old page, but has some useful links.
- Secure World Foundation – Near-Earth Objects. Note that SWF also works closely with the left-wing Center for Defense Information on efforts to ban weapons in space.
- EADS Astrium – NEOShield: Protection against asteroid impacts. An EU program, with participation from American and Russian organizations.
- New Scientist (June 28/10) – Asteroid hunters part-blinded by the military
- Discovery News (June 28/10) – Don’t Be Subtle, Nuke That Asteroid. That’s what physicist David Dearborn of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory thinks.
- AP (Aug 12/09) – NASA cannot keep up with killer asteroids
- Newswise (July 1/08) – Asteroid Impacts on Earth: A Protection Plan
- UPI (Oct 30/07) – Outside View: Defending Earth [Part 1 | Part 2]