Laser Ranging System, Satellite-Tracking, Film and Canister


Display Status:

This object is not on display at the National Air and Space Museum. It is either on loan or in storage.

Collection Item Summary:

This suite includes a film reel and canister from the laser-ranging satellite tracking system that the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory used at Mt. Hopkins near Tucson, Arizona. There is also an unidentified optical component - a clear glass disk with a central hole. The satellite laser tracking systems were designed as a refinement on the Baker-Nunn cameras developed by SAO in connection with the International Geophysical Year. They comprised a laser transmitter mounted side-by-side with a telescope receiver, which were used to obtain highly accurate measurements of orbital altitudes and tracks of artificial satellites. They provided ranging data at accuracy levels of one meter or better.

SAO operated four laser-tracking systems around the world—in Brazil, Peru, Australia, and Mt. Hopkins. The program was used to track a large number of satellites from its inception in 1968 until it was shut down in 1982. SAO transferred these parts to the Museum in 1980.

Collection Item Long Description:

Data Source

National Air and Space Museum

Restrictions & Rights

Do not reproduce without permission from the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum

Credit Line

Transfered from Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory


aluminum, tape, plastic, film, glass


Overall: 9.5 × 10.2cm (3 3/4 in. × 4 in.)

Country of Origin

United States of America



Inventory Number


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