When: Mar 12 2024 @ 3:00 PM
Where: Malone 228

Title: “Discovery of Faint Space Objects – An Efficient and Versatile Methodology”

Abstract: Detection of faint space objects with limited a priori state knowledge can enable advanced capabilities across multiple domains, including space situational awareness, planetary defense, and planetary science. To detect objects fainter than the single-frame sensitivity limit, track-before-detect methods can improve the signal-to-noise ratio of the object of interest by incoherently adding the object’s signal across multiple frames. However, traditional track-before-detect techniques can become computationally intensive over large search volumes. In this work, we present a computational approach to significantly speed up the search process by applying divide-and-conquer methodologies and dynamic programming techniques. In this approach, image frames are processed in stages, in which pairs of frames are shifted and added to generate short-track segments, which are combined in later stages to form longer tracks. The algorithm speedup comes from the fact that a single short track segment can be reused multiple times for different longer tracks without the need for recomputing. Benchmark testing with simulated data shows that this method results in a significant reduction in runtime in comparison to traditional track-before-detect approach. As a proof of concept, we demonstrated the applicability of the technique in performing a blind search for faint asteroids in image data collected from the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), leading to an improvement of up to 2 visual magnitudes in sensitivity with moderate computational resources. The method presented in this work has wide applicability, including custody maintenance of small and/or distant spacecraft and discovery of small planetary bodies in the inner and outer solar system.

Bio: Dr. Nguyen is a Technical Staff at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in the Space Systems & Technology division. She has led multiple research programs on advanced detection methodology and space-based remote sensing instrumentation. She is interested in developing new sensing capabilities to detect and characterize space objects for space situational awareness, planetary defense, and planetary science & exploration. Prior to her current role, she was part of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) team at MIT, where she contributed to the development of the spacecraft fine-pointing system and instrument photometric precision characterization before and after launch. Her previous research experience includes developing attitude-sensing systems for CubeSats, leading to multiple patents in sensing technology. She received her B.S. in Aeronautics/Astronautics and Physics in 2013 and Ph.D. in Space Systems in 2018 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was the recipient of a NASA Silver Achievement Medal for her contribution to the TESS mission and was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and Zonta International Amelia Earhart Fellow.

Host: Jill Middendorf