David Zuehlke

Date of Award


Access Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering


Graduate Studies

Committee Chair

Dr. Troy Henderson

First Committee Member

Dr. Richard Prazenica

Second Committee Member

Dr. Morad Nazari

Third Committee Member

Dr. Alan Lovell


Angles-only initial orbit determination (AIOD) methods have been used to find the orbit of satellites since the beginning of the Space Race. Given the ever increasing number of objects in orbit today, the need for accurate space situational awareness (SSA) data has never been greater. Small aperture (< 0:5m) optical systems, increasingly popular in both amateur and professional circles, provide an inexpensive source of such data. However, utilizing these types of systems requires understanding their limits. This research uses a combination of image processing techniques and orbit estimation algorithms to evaluate the limits and improve the resulting orbit solution obtained using small aperture systems. Characterization of noise from physical, electronic, and digital sources leads to a better understanding of reducing noise in the images used to provide the best solution possible. Given multiple measurements, choosing the best images for use is a non-trivial process and often results in trying all combinations. In an effort to help autonomize the process, a novel “observability metric” using only information from the captured images was shown empirically as a method of choosing the best observations. A method of identifying resident space objects (RSOs) in a single image using a gradient based search algorithm was developed and tested on actual space imagery captured with a small aperture optical system. The algorithm was shown to correctly identify candidate RSOs in a variety of observational scenarios.