The Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) Program: an Automated System for Telescope Control, Wide-Field Imaging, and Object Detection
The Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking (NEAT) system operates autonomously at the Maui Space Surveillance Site on the summit of the extinct Haleakala Volcano Crater, Hawaii. The program began in 1995 December and continues with an observing run every month. Its astrometric observations result in discoveries of near-Earth objects (NEOs), both asteroids (NEAs) and comets, and other unusual minor planets. Each six-night run NEAT covers about 10% of the accessible sky, detects thousands of asteroids, and detects two to five NEAs. NEAT has also contributed more than 1500 preliminary designations of minor planets and 26,000 detections of main-belt asteroids. This paper presents a description of the NEAT system and discusses its capabilities, including sky coverage, limiting magnitude, and detection efficiency. NEAT is an effective discoverer of NEAs larger than 1 km and is a major contributor to NASA's goal of identifying all NEAs of this size. An expansion of NEAT into a network of three similar systems would be capable of discovering 90% of the 1 km and larger NEAs within the next 10-40 yr, while serving the additional role of satellite detection and tracking for the US Air Force. Daily updates of NEAT results during operational periods can be found at JPL's Web site (http://huey.jpl.nasa.gov/~spravdo/neat.html). The images and information about the detected objects, including times of observation, positions, and magnitudes are made available via NASA's SkyMorph program.