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SMDC soon to be in the Observatory business
SMDC PAO - 23 Feb 98

A state-of-the-art optical observatory may soon be built atop the Magdalena Mountains in central New Mexico, near Socorro. The U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command's Sensors Directorate has received congressional briefings on the Magdalena Ridge Observatory, or MRO. The facility would be used for astronomical observations for student research and teaching, and also monitor missile flights and missile intercept observations at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

Towards this goal, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, the University of Puerto Rico, and New Mexico State University have formed a University Research Consortium to construct and run the observatory, with SMDC managing the required contractual efforts and later leasing observation time - mainly for launches from Ft. Wingate into White Sands. "Most of the night use would be for astronomical observations," said Doc Milton, project manager at SMDC, "thus providing an excellent research and educational tool for students and faculty at the three universities. During the day, the facility would allow monitoring of missile flights and intercepts."

The facility will consist of two 2.4-meter telescopes and one 0.75-meter telescope. Each would be equipped with an adaptive optics system to compensate for atmospheric image distortion. This would provide image resolution on the ground comparable to that of the Hubble telescope in space.

SMDC and White Sands Missile Range both support the proposed project. The University Research Consortium together with congressional delegates from New Mexico is seeking funding of $40 million from Congress. SMDC would design the facility, provide technical consultation and design advice, and manage the contract. Then the command would use the facility on a reimbursable basis.

"The proposed observatory would meet several important objectives," said Van Romero, vice president for research at New Mexico Tech. "It will become a tremendous resource, not only for researchers, but for students as well - from kindergarten to post-docs." The cutting edge technology and computer image processing requirements for the facility will provide capabilities that are not currently available elsewhere.

For the Department of Defense, the facility would provide kill assessment support for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense and other missile programs, such as cruise missile studies.

Prepared by Gerda Sherrill, 23 Feb 98

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