Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Program (LINEAR)
November 1, 2000
Icarus J., Vol. 148, No. 1, November 2000, pp. 21-28.
The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program has applied electro-optical technology developed for Air Force Space Surveillance applications to the problem of discovering near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) and comets. This application is natural due to the commonality between the surveillance of the sky for man-made satellites and the search for near-Earth objects (NEOs). Both require the efficient search of broad swaths of sky to detect faint, moving objects. Currently, the Air Force Ground-based Electro-Optic Deep Space Surveillance (GEODSS) systems, which operate as part of the worldwide U.S. space surveillance network, are being upgraded to state-of-the-art charge-coupled device (CCD) detectors. These detectors are based on recent advances made by MIT Lincoln Laboratory in the fabrication of large format, highly sensitive CCDs. In addition, state-of-the-art data processing algorithms have been developed to employ the new detectors for search operations. In order to address stressing space surveillance requirements, the Lincoln CCDs have a unique combination of features, including large format, high quantum efficiency, frame transfer, high readout rate, and low noise, not found on any commercially available CCD. Systems development for the GEODSS upgrades has been accomplished at the Lincoln Laboratory Experimental Test Site (ETS) located near Socorro, New Mexico, over the past several years. Starting in 1996, the Air Force funded a small effort to demonstrate the effectiveness of the CCD and broad area search technology when applied to the problem of finding asteroids and comets. This program evolved into the current LINEAR program, which is jointly funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and NASA. LINEAR, which started full operations in March of 1998, has discovered through September of 1999, 257 NEAs (of 797 known to date), 11 unusual objects (of 44 known), and 32 comets. Currently, LINEAR is contributing ~70% of the worldwide NEA discovery rate and has single-handedly increased the observations submitted to the Minor Planet Center by a factor of 10. This paper covers the technology used by the program, the operations, and the detailed results of the search efforts.