AFRL sodium guide star laser enables more detailed images of objects in space
KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) engineers began operating a new Boeing-built sodium guide star laser on a telescope at Kirtland Air Force Base. The 50-watt laser will enable AFRL scientists to enhance their acquisition of detailed images of objects in Earth orbit.
It is installed on a 3.5-meter telescope at Kirtland’s Starfire Optical Range and illuminates sodium atoms in the atmosphere via an intense laser beam. The laser creates an artificial guide star, which measures the blurring effect caused by turbulence in the Earth's atmosphere. An adaptive optics (AO) system then uses this measurement to correct the blurring effect.
Adding the sodium guide star laser and improving the AO system sensitivity, will make it possible to reliably obtain satellite images that have more accurate and precise details than ever before, says Dennis Montera, AFRL Principal Investigator. This will enhance “our capabilities in space situational awareness."
Under the AFRL's Innovative Research and Optical Support Services contract, Boeing is responsible for improving the site's capability in atmospheric compensation, laser communications, and other technical areas.