GAUSS participates in the Castelgrande Observatory Mission, through the CastelGAUSS Project, providing valuable technical assistance and its know-how in space debris research.
The area of Toppo di Castelgrande, in the Italian region of Basilicata, is particularly suitable for space objects observation. This zone was already selected to host the astronomical observatory managed by INAF-Capodimonte, with a 1.54 meter alt-azimuth telescope, named TT1.
Near the TT1 observatory, a new building was added in 2014 in concert with local authorities, dedicated to the detection of space debris and asteroids.
It is CastelGAUSS Observatory, run jointly by KIAM and GAUSS. It includes an automatized setup which includes telescopes and IT for optical observations.
Castelgrande Observatory forms part of the ISON (International Scientific Optical Network), managed by Dr. Igor Molotov of the KIAM Keldysh Institute of Applied Mathematics – Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Federation.
The International Scientific Optical Network is an international project carrying on the activities of detection, monitoring and tracking of objects in Space which has placed about 30 telescopes in several observatories in 11 different Countries (Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Moldova, Spain, Switzerland, Bolivia, USA, Italy).
As in the case of CastelGAUSS Project, ISON Space surveillance system is conducted in collaboration with specialized teams located in the several observatories around the world, having a good astro-climate and operating optical telescopes.
ISON specialists, experienced in optical telescope production and technology (including software) can train astronomers and donate telescopes, like the one in the facility of CastelGAUSS Observatory.
KIAM Institute coordinates the ISON project and analyses measurement data that can be used to support spaceflight safety, improve orbits, detect the appearance of new celestial objects, the possibility of close encounters and so on.
The aim of the new CastelGAUSS Observatory is to study the characteristics of space debris and NEOs (including asteroids), the optical observation of rotation periods of tracked objects, detection of the size and shape of the detected body, photo-metric measurements, surface composition and relative studies.
The first dome currently houses a 22-cm aperture ORI-22 telescope (with 4.1×4.1° FOV, 510mm focal length and 4.82 arcsec/px scale), installed on a Skywatcher EQ-6 Pro mount and equipped with a 3k×3k FLI CCD camera.
A second telescope will be installed in the near future: a 35-cm aperture Ritchey-Chrétien telescope with 40′ FOV to support the tracking of dimmer objects at GEO and HEO orbits. The second dome has already been installed and it is ready to host the new telescope and associated electronics.
Thanks to the use of CastelGAUSS observatory GAUSS personnel was able to capture a picture (on the right) of the Chinese Space Station Tiangong-1while passing over Italy during its descent to re-enter the Earth atmosphere, on March 31, 2018.
The powerful image has been taken during the activity of observation and monitoring using an exposure of 0.5 seconds, and the image IFOV was located at 18h 36m 48.602s RA, -23˚ 09′ 15.96″ DEC.
The picture has been reported in many national and international news, during the event as one of the clearest picture of the Chinese spacecraft decaying back to Earth.
The results of the space debris observation are being further studied.
Scientific results obtained with CastelGAUSS Observatory have been presented in many international conferences on Space Debris, and in 2019 the IAA Italian Regional Symposium on Space Debris Observations from Basilicata has been held in Toppo di CastelGrande, and researchers from all over the world have shared their research on Space Debris, optical / radar observations of NEOs, and current research topics on space debris removal.
Here below you may find some pictures of the Observatory, together with some results of photometric measurements realized.