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NEEMO-T03 and T05, two telescopes contributing to European Space Surveillance and Tracking

on 03 November 2021

The Institute of Space Science and the Astronomical Institute of the Romanian Academy operate a system of two telescopes installed on the same mount that contribute to European Space Surveillance and Tracking efforts.

The two telescopes are called NEEMO-T03 and NEEMO-T05 and they are located in Bucharest, at the headquarters of the Astronomical Institute of the Romanian Academy. The NEEMO-T03 telescope is used for surveillance, while the NEEMO-T05 is used for tracking the population of artificial space objects.

The telescopes are part of the national network of sensors which deliver data to the SST Operational Centre in Romania (COSST), coordinated by the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA).

Romania has worked Since 2013 with the SST Committee, organised at the level of the European Council. In December 2018, Romania joined the EUSST Consortium, together with Poland and Portugal, thus being among the six founding European states of this consortium. Currently, Romania contributes with observational data to the provision of services such as re-entry into the atmosphere, fragmentation and avoidance of collision with other objects in space.

Romania's participation in the European Consortium is based on the national effort that allowed the establishment of the SST Operational Centre (COSST), in 2018, within the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA). The SST Operational Centre coordinates the SST activities in Romania and communicates with the counterpart operational centers in the Member States in the EUSST Consortium. Also, a major contribution was made by the national effort invested in improving the performance of existing optical sensors, as well as the reconfiguration of the radar from Cheia.

Romania has experience in the fields of Space Surveillance and Tracking (SST), Space Weather (SWE), and Near Earth Objects (NEO) following the participation of public and private organizations with potential in the optional SSA program within the European Space Agency (ESA), as well as nationally, in various initiatives funded by National Research and Development Plan. The research capabilities of Romanian organizations include: performing position measurements on the celestial sphere of Near Earth Objects (astrometry), securing the orbits of these newly discovered objects (observations and data recorded as soon as an alert is issued to identify a new asteroid that intersects Earth’s orbit), mineralogical analysis of asteroid surfaces by ground-based spectroscopic observations in the near-visible and near-infrared range, estimation of dynamic parameters of NEO orbits from astrometric data, development of prototypes in the field of optical sensors and passive radio ground (active satellites, space debris, meteorites), conducting experiments to detect and track space objects of interest, software development and systems for analysis and processing of specific data.

Earlier this year, in a first for Europe’s global navigation satellite system, the Romanian NEEMO telescopes contributed with observational data to mitigate the risk of a collision between the Galileo satellite GSAT0219  and an Ariane 44LP R/B rocket body.

On 25 February, EU SST placed a tracking request to the EUSST sensor network to observe potential collision event between Galileo 23 satellite (COSPAR ID: 2018-060C) and the rocket body Ariane 44LP R/B (COSPAR ID: 1989-062C). The NEEMO telescopes answered the call by contributing observational data for the whole time, during the monitoring period. Thus, the smallest approach distance between the two space objects was estimated 9 days later, on 7 March. The Galileo Service Operator  was continuously informed about the potential collision event, by comparing available data from EU SST contributing sensors with external sources. After the collision risk alert, the  Galileo 23 satellite was moved out of the danger zone, in a safe orbit. Galileo 23 resumed normal operations on 19 March 2021.

In 2019, NEEMO-T05 was used to monitor and obtain photometric data of the Gault asteroid (6478), a mysterious object that presents a cometary activity even though it is in the Main Belt of asteroids. The study involved an international team that includes researchers from MIT-US, Astronomical Institute of the Romanian Academy, Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, Observatoire de Paris-France, Lowell Observatory, Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii, and Northern Arizona University.

2021 11 Neemo Telescopes

Image credit: EUSST