Special Optics, a subsidiary of Navitar, recently completed the design and assembly of a custom 500mm focal length telescope that will be deployed in NASA's MABEL laser altimeter instrument. MABEL is an aircraft-based simulator for the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) instrument that will fly on board the second generation Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat-2) to measure global changes in polar ice coverage.
Special Optics was contracted by NASA to design and build two 500mm focal length telescopes for the new ICESat-2 mission, scheduled to launch into orbit in 2016. The ICESat-2 will replace the original ICESat satellite, which successfully collected ice, cloud, topography, and vegetation data from 2003 to 2009. In order to gather information prior to the ICESat-2 launch, NASA is conducting a series of airborne campaigns using the MABEL instrument.
The athermalised 500mm telescope units, with titanium mechanics, require precise assembly and testing to ensure they are identical in focal length. When used in the aircraft, one telescope will transmit multiple laser pulses and the other telescope will receive the ground reflected light. Using the transmitted and received signals, and precisely measuring the time between pulses, NASA can map the terrain of the earth.
Navitar's connection to NASA started more than 40 years ago when the company produced an 8mm camera lens used to capture historical satellite images of TIROS-1 (Television Infrared Observation Satellite), the world’s first weather satellite.