Updating the Maui Space Surveillance Complex

The Air Force is adding a laser to the Maui Space Surveillance Complex that creates a “guide star” allowing researchers with the Air Force Research Laboratory to get “really clean pictures” of man-made objects in space, Chief Engineer Skip Williams told Air Force Magazine during a recent visit to the complex. The laser, which will be incorporated into the existing complex, will be used “very infrequently” for short periods of time at sunrise and sunset. It will be visible only from the 10,000-foot summit. Williams said workers will be able to shoot the laser into the upper atmosphere and create an artificial star next to an object of interest. The light from the artificial star then travels back to the 12-foot Advanced Electro-Optical System telescope—the largest single telescope in the Defense Department—enabling researchers to use adaptive optics and compensate for the turbulence in the atmosphere, getting a clearer image of space objects. AFRL expects to use the new technology some time this year, said Williams. The sodium guide star laser will be the second laser on top of Mount Haleakala. The first is used to determine the position of satellites and is invisible to the naked eye, said Williams.