A Melville-based telecom company has won a $38-million contract for a small U.S. Navy spacecraft that will map the stars, the company said.
The Comtech Communications Corp. craft will enable the Navy to generate a star catalog 15 times more accurate and 100 times denser than existing bright star catalogs, Navy astronomers said in background documents.
Once completed, the star catalog will have a variety of uses, including ocean navigation, satellite tracking and aircraft formation flying, the Navy and Comtech said. It will provide data for both civilian and military use.
In a news release last week Comtech said its Virginia-based subsidiary Comtech AeroAstro Inc. will produce the craft - known as a spacecraft bus, or satellite bus. This bus will hold the Navy's payload of mapping equipment as it orbits the earth.
The project, known as the Joint Milli-Arcsecond Pathfinder Survey, or JMAPS, is led by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. The Navy plans to launch in 2013 and to produce the space catalog by 2016.
"The JMAPS mission is primarily intended to update the star position catalog for critical national security and civil applications," Comtech said in a news release. Comtech said it is adapting an existing bus, the Astro 200AS, for use in the Pathfinder Survey. The Astro 200AS was initially developed for a separate Department of Defense space program.
Fred Kornberg, president and chief executive of Comtech Telecommunications Corp., said in a statement, "We are excited to participate on the JMAPS mission and this award represents further evidence that our ongoing investments in our microsatellite product line are resulting in leading edge products and solutions. We continue to solidify our position as a primary provider of innovative mission solutions."
Navy astronomers said in a September 2009 paper that the new Pathfinder survey will replace the current, increasingly inaccurate Hipparcos star catalog, which is based on data gathered by the European Space Agency's August 1989 astrometry mission. Astrometry is the measurement of the positions and motions of stars.
The accuracy of Hipparcos data has steadily degraded since 1991 due to "measurement uncertainties in the proper motions of the stars that make up the Hipparcos catalog," Navy astronomers said in the 2009 paper.