Several precedents for this project exist. The first. carried out in the 1950's and 1960's for the Office of Naval Research by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, was called project Moonwatch. In this program amateur astronomers made world-wide coordinated and precisely timed twilight observations against the star background of meridian crossings of Sputnik, Explorer and Vanguard spacecraft as a complement to the more sophisticated optical and radio-frequency satellite tracking networks just coming into being at that time. Calculations were made by Smithsonian professionals from reports telephoned and mailed in on postcards by the amateur observers, and the spacecraft's orbits were determined. A similar, amateur-based, satellite observational program has been conducted in Great Britain ever since those early days of the space program with orbit computations performed by scientists in government laboratories. With advanced computers and software tools such as Analytical Graphics' Satellite Tool Kit available today to students in universities and high schools, however, it will be possible for the students themselves to make their own STARSHINE orbit determinations, future sighting predictions, and atmospheric density calculations.
The second precedent was Project NUSAT, in which Weber State University, Utah State University and New Mexico State University, assisted by substantial numbers of aerospace and electronics companies, built a 140-pound (63.5 kg), 19-inch diameter (48 cm), 18-sided polyhedron spacecraft to measure antenna patterns of Air Traffic Control Radar Beacons for the Federal Aviation Administration. This spacecraft was launched into a 210-mile (338 km) circular earth orbit from a Get Away Special canister in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Challenger in April of 1985. It orbited and produced useful data for twenty months before re-entering the atmosphere and vaporizing in December of 1986 The dimensions and deployment technique for NUSAT were very similar to those planned for STARSHINE.
The third precedent is a mirrored Japanese geodetic spacecraft, named AJISAI, which was launched in 1986 into a nearly circular earth orbit at an altitude of 890 miles (1432 km). This spacecraft is seven feet in diameter, weighs 1500 (680 kg) pounds and is covered by 318 mirrors, each ten inches square. It also contains 1436 optical corner reflectors, each one inch in diameter, that have been tracked for over ten years by large laser-ranging telescopes positioned around the globe. Its purpose is to determine the shape of the earth and its gravitational irregularities to great precision This spacecraft is massive and was placed at a deliberately high altitude, so as to be unaffected by atmospheric drag, and, although extremely useful for making precise measurements of the Earth's figure, is of no value in determining atmospheric density.
The Sputnik Explorer and Vanguard spacecraft themselves were not visible to the unaided eye (although Sputnik I's tumbling, spent upper stage was, on an intermittent basis); therefore, various types of gain optics, including personal telescopes, binoculars and elbow scopes procured from war surplus 90-mm gun mounts, were employed in the Moonwatch program for sighting the spacecraft. STARSHINE observations will also be facilitated by the use of binoculars and telescopes, of course, since greater precision of placement of the satellite's position in the star field will result from more stars being visible in the observers' fields of view. This will make the project more appealing to amateur astronomers who are fortunate enough to have access to such instruments. However, the mirrors on the STARSHINE sphere are designed to produce intermittent, naked-eye-visible flashes of light and make it possible for students without telescopes to observe the spacecraft and thus facilitate the principal purpose of this project, which is to provide interesting experiences in the fields of optical astronomy, orbital dynamics, space and atmospheric physics, mathematics and international cooperation for students around the globe, without resort to expensive tools.
Questions about the project should be directed to
Starshine Project Director, Prof. R. Gilbert Moore
3855 Sierra Vista Road
Monument, CO 80132.
Telephone and FAX number are both (719)488-0721
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