Abstract

The extremely low-resource optical identifier (ELROI) is a concept for an autonomous, low-power optical “license plate” that can be attached to anything that goes into space. ELROI uses short, omnidirectional flashes of laser light to encode a unique ID number that can be read by a small ground telescope using a photon-counting sensor and innovative extreme background-rejection techniques. ELROI is smaller and lighter than a typical radio beacon, low-power enough to run on its own small solar cell, and can safely operate for the entire orbital lifetime of a satellite or debris object. The concept has been validated in ground tests, and orbital prototypes are scheduled for launch in 2018 and beyond. In this paper, we focus on the details of the encoding scheme and data analysis that allow a milliwatt optical signal to be read from orbit. We describe the techniques of extreme background-rejection needed to achieve this, including spectral filtering and temporal filtering using a period- and phase-recovery algorithm, and discuss the requirements for an error-correcting code to encode the ID number. Worked examples with both simulated and experimental (long-range ground test) data illustrate the methods used. We present these techniques to describe a new optical communication concept, and to encourage others to consider observing and analyzing our upcoming test flights.

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