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RAP opportunity at Air Force Science and Technology Fellowship Program     AF STFP

Optical Material Characterization for Space Domain Awareness


Directed Energy Directorate, RD/Physical Sciences

opportunity location
13.10.02.C0929 Kirtland Air Force Base, NM 871175776


name email phone
Jennifer Reed 505.846.3320


As space becomes increasingly congested and contested, the need for exquisite Space Domain Awareness (SDA) becomes paramount. Historically, SDA has been necessary for collision avoidance, however, with the increasing number of space actors, it is necessary to develop a more encompassing SDA apparatus. Resident Space Object (RSO) remote diagnostics rely on the three different ways light carries information: intensity (photometry), color (spectroscopy or color photometry), and polarization (polarimetry). This topic will focus on developing the tools and understanding necessary to use color and polarization as an SDA asset.  

There are three main difficulties in using reflected light to determine spacecraft material type and chemical composition. First, spacecraft are typically constructed from a variety of materials and the reflected light curve represents a convolution of respective spectral signatures. Next, the phase angle formed between the source, the target (spacecraft), and the remote detector (telescope) changes throughout the duration of observation and can affect the reflected color spectrum. Lastly, space is complex and a hostile environment. It consists of vacuum, large temperature fluctuations, and bombardment by energetic particles, including atomic oxygen, electrons, ions, vacuum ultraviolet light (VUV), all of which act to alter spacecraft materials.

Optical properties of materials provide an exciting link to understand the state of a satellite using remote sensing. The end goal is to use various photometric measurements generated during this work to determine the material composition of a satellite and the state of each material.

The Associate will have access to a large vacuum chamber (2m diameter) equipped with a high energy electron gun, VUV lights, a temperature regulated plate, and several characterization tools. In addition, the lab has access to AFM, SEM, UV/VIS and IR spectrometers, and optical characterization facilities, either in the lab or with collaborators on base. Ongoing collaborations with the University of New Mexico, University of Arizona and other research universities, as well as the AFRL Space Vehicles and Materials Directorates provide access to practically any material characterization technique.

Key technical background area includes optical characterization of materials specifically by polarimetry and spectroscopy and use of computer modelling tools for data analysis and visualization as well as hand on experience working in a laboratory.

key words
Satellite; Spectroscopy; Photometry; Polarimetry; Optical Materials; Space Domain Awareness; Space Situational Awareness;


Citizenship:  Open to U.S. citizens
Level:  Open to Postdoctoral and Senior applicants


Base Stipend Travel Allotment Supplementation
$95,000.00 $5,000.00

Experience Supplement:
Postdoctoral and Senior Associates will receive an appropriately higher stipend based on the number of years of experience past their PhD.

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