Laser-guide-star satellite for ground-based adaptive optics imaging of geosynchronous satellites

Weston A. Marlow, Ashley K. Carlton, Hyosang Yoon, James R. Clark, Christian A. Haughwout, Kerri L. Cahoy, Jared R. Males, Laird M Close, Katie M. Morzinski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


In this study, the feasibility and utility of using a maneuverable nanosatellite laser guide star from a geostationary equatorial orbit have been assessed to enable ground-based, adaptive optics imaging of geosynchronous satellites with next-generation extremely large telescopes. The concept for a satellite guide star was first discussed in the literature by Greenaway and Clark in the early 1990s ("PHAROS: An Agile Satellite-Borne Laser Guidestar," Proceedings of SPIE, Vol. 2120, 1994, pp. 206-210), and expanded upon by Albert in 2012 ("Satellite-Mounted Light Sources as Photometric Calibration Standards for Ground-Based Telescopes," Astronomical Journal, Vol. 143, No. 1, 2012, p. 8). With a satellite-based laser as an adaptive optics guide star, the source laser does not need to scatter, and is well above atmospheric turbulence. When viewed from the ground through a turbulent atmosphere, the angular size of the satellite guide star is much smaller than a backscattered source. Advances in small-satellite technology and capability allowed the revisiting of the concept on a 6UCubeSat, measuring 10 × 20 × 30 cm. It is shown that a system that uses a satellite-based laser transmitter can be relatively low power (∼1 W transmit power) and operated intermittently. Although the preliminary analysis indicates that a single satellite guide star cannot be used for observing multiple astronomical targets, it will only require a little propellant to relocate within the geosynchronous belt. Results of a design study on the feasibility of a small-satellite guide star have been presented, and the potential benefits to astronomical imaging and to the larger space situational awareness community have been highlighted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)621-639
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Spacecraft and Rockets
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science

Cite this

Marlow, W. A., Carlton, A. K., Yoon, H., Clark, J. R., Haughwout, C. A., Cahoy, K. L., ... Morzinski, K. M. (2017). Laser-guide-star satellite for ground-based adaptive optics imaging of geosynchronous satellites. Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, 54(3), 621-639.