Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Mohammad Matin


classification, geostationary, polarimeter, polarization, satellite, Stokes vector


In order to protect critical military and commercial space assets, the United States Space Surveillance Network must have the ability to positively identify and characterize all space objects. Unfortunately, positive identification and characterization of space objects is a manual and labor intensive process today since even large telescopes cannot provide resolved images of most space objects. Since resolved images of geosynchronous satellites are not technically feasible with current technology, another method of distinguishing space objects was explored that exploits the polarization signature from unresolved images.

The objective of this study was to collect and analyze visible-spectrum polarization data from unresolved images of geosynchronous satellites taken over various solar phase angles. Different collection geometries were used to evaluate the polarization contribution of solar arrays, thermal control materials, antennas, and the satellite bus as the solar phase angle changed. Since materials on space objects age due to the space environment, it was postulated that their polarization signature may change enough to allow discrimination of identical satellites launched at different times.

The instrumentation used in this experiment was a United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) Department of Physics system that consists of a 20-inch Ritchey-Chrétien telescope and a dual focal plane optical train fed with a polarizing beam splitter. A rigorous calibration of the system was performed that included corrections for pixel bias, dark current, and response. Additionally, the two channel polarimeter was calibrated by experimentally determining the Mueller matrix for the system and relating image intensity at the two cameras to Stokes parameters S0 and S1.

After the system calibration, polarization data was collected during three nights on eight geosynchronous satellites built by various manufacturers and launched several years apart. Three pairs of the eight satellites were identical buses to determine if identical buses could be correctly differentiated. When Stokes parameters were plotted against time and solar phase angle, the data indicates that there were distinguishing features in S0 (total intensity) and S1 (linear polarization) that may lead to positive identification or classification of each satellite.


Recieved from ProQuest

Rights holder

James Speicher

File size

146 p.

File format





Remote sensing, Aerospace engineering, Electrical engineering