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Proposal Ideas for Advanced Studies on Optical SETI and the way for Successful Detection of ETI

Radobs 11

Star Date: December 24, 1990

Dr. Jill Tarter/Dr. John Billingham
SETI Institute
2035 Landings Drive
Mountain View
California 94043
United States Of America
Planet Earth
Sol, Federation Sector 0,0,1
The Milky Way Galaxy

Dear Jill,

I would like you to print out this pre-Christmas message and pass it along
to Dr. John Billingham.  It has been copied to the RADOBS bulletin board.




Dear Dr. Billingham,

It should come as no surprise to you to learn that I would like to submit a
Phase 1 proposal to the SETI Institute on the subject of Optical SETI. 
Presently, I can see the need for a program consisting of five phases, where
the scope of Phase 3 and beyond would depend on whether or not ground-based
Optical SETI can be done efficiently.  This Optical SETI program could
eventually be given the name "The Microwave & Optical Observation Project"
(MOOP).  The fifth phase would likely be the equivalent of the Microwave
Observing Project (MOP), and would involve the modification and
instrumentation of some of the world's great telescopes or the deployment of
a second- or third-generation space telescope.

At any time, successful detection of ETI signals during the microwave part
of MOOP, would trigger a major reconsideration as to whether to continue the
on-going Optical SETI investigations.  Of course, detection of signals in
the microwave spectrum need not preclude ETI signals in the optical spectrum
if the rationale of Signpost SETI is being applied by ETIs.  Funding for
Optical SETI activities could come both from NASA and the NSF.  I know just
the person you could hire to initially lead a small Optical SETI activity to
run in parallel with MOP!

(Version 1.0)
Program Summary:
Period 1991 - 2010 (and beyond).

PHASE 1:    Extend Optical SETI study.
PHASE 2:    Recommend prototype ground or space-based Optical SETI facility.
PHASE 3(a): Construction of prototype ground-based Optical SETI facility.
PHASE 3(b): Construction of Optical SETI retrofit package for the HST.
PHASE 4(a): Modification of selected large ground-based optical telescopes.
PHASE 4(b): Construction and launch of new Optical SETI Space Telescope.
PHASE 5:    The Microwave & Optical Observation Project (MOOP).

Here now is the first cut of my proposal ideas:


Object:   To extend the study that I am presently doing on Optical SETI.

     (a)  Refine the rationale for Optical SETI.

     (b)  Identify the "magic frequencies" in the optical (ultra-violet to
          far-infrared) spectrum.

     (c)  Determine optimum spectrum analyzer bandwidths, on the basis of
          assumed de-chirping of signals at both ends of the link.

     (d)  Determine the best polarization strategy for the optical

     (e)  Investigate the potential of adaptive ground-based telescopes to
          function as efficient ETI receivers, perhaps using laser guide

     (f)  Determine over what regions of the near-infrared and far-infrared
          spectrum is it sensible to be considering ground-based Optical

     (g)  Confirm that daylight visible Optical SETI is feasible.

     (h)  Talk to the optical astronomy community to gauge their reaction to
          the possibility of sharing observatories with Optical SETI

     (i)  Investigate which features of the Optical SETI hardware can be of
          use to optical astronomers in their research.  We ought to be able
          to build a symbiotic relationship between Optical SETI and the
          Light Sciences, because of the powerful spectral analysis tools
          that will be made available.  Conventional astronomy and Optical
          SETI could then become synergistic to one another.

     (j)  Investigate state-of-the-art photodetector array technology.

     (k)  Investigate availability and capabilities of commercial lasers to
          act as local-oscillator laser over the entire visible and near-
          infrared spectrum.

     (l)  Recommend whether a coherent heterodyne or incoherent photon-
          counting approach is preferable, or even a combination of both.

     (m)  Keep up-to-date on the progress of MOP, with a view to
          incorporating MOP technology into Optical SETI.

     (n)  To present a detailed report summarizing the results to date (my
          self-funded study), plus the results of (a) to (m).

     (o)  Recommendations as to whether Optical SETI should be continued to
          a second phase.

     This is a paper study only and would be conducted primarily by


Object:   To recommend a ground-based telescope site, design the adaptive
          optical system, the basic optical receiving system, signal
          processing, and search strategy.  Possible contending sites are
          the Perkins Observatory adjacent to OSU's "Big Ear" Radio
          Observatory, the new Columbus Telescope to be built in Arizona,
          the new Keck Telescope in Hawaii, or the decommissioned Mt. Wilson

     (a)  Design an adaptive optical telescope receiving system.

     (b)  Design an optical receiver based on the recommendations of
          Phase I.

     (c)  To adapt the technology developed by MOP into the signal
          processing system required for Optical SETI.

     (d)  Select existing ground-based observatory site.

     (e)  If the observatory is to be shared with conventional astronomy,
          work out the compatibility details so that each branch of science
          can be conducted with the least amount of interference.  This may
          mean relegating Optical SETI to day time observations, and
          conventional astronomy to the night.

     (f)  Consider whether the existing mirrors need to be replaced because
          of size or adaptive considerations.

     (g)  Consider whether the existing mirrors need to have new reflective
          coatings for extended operation into the infrared region of the

     (h)  Decide on how much of the "field-of-view" will be imaged onto an
          Optical SETI photodetector array.

     (i)  Report detailing engineering specifications and costing of
          modification work to selected telescope site, and construction of
          prototype Optical SETI facility.

     (j)  Assessment of whether a Space Telescope Optical SETI retrofit
          instrumentation package would be a sensible approach.

     (k)  Preliminary design of retrofit Optical SETI package for later
          retrofit to the Hubble Space Telescope if the ground-based
          approach looks doubtful.

     (l)  Costing of HST Optical SETI retrofit.

     (m)  To present a report summarizing the results of (a) to (l).

     (n)  Recommendations as to whether Optical SETI should be continued
          immediately to a third phase ground-based approach, or to delay
          this phase until certain technology has matured, or to consider
          only a space-based approach, or perhaps not to proceed further
          with Optical SETI.

     This is a mainly a paper study and would be conducted by FIBERDYNE
     OPTOELECTRONICS, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY, and a consultant presently
     involved with adaptive telescope technology.  A limited amount of
     experimental assessment work might be done to confirm the suitability
     of certain state-of-the-art technologies.  Participants from OSU would
     include Dr. Robert Dixon from the Radio Observatory, and staff from
     OSU's Department of Astronomy.

PHASE 3(a)

Object:   To instrument the chosen prototype ground-based telescope.

     (a)  Briefly reevaluate conclusions of Phase II to see if any new ideas
          or technologies should be included in the prototype ground-based
          SETI observatory.

     (b)  Modify existing ground-based optical observatory.

     (c)  Carry out preliminary Optical SETI observations to assess how well
          the facility performs.

     (d)  Detailed report and engineering specifications of prototype
          ground-based Optical SETI facility and initial experimental and
          observational data obtained.

     This is a mainly a hardware project and would be conducted by FIBERDYNE
     OPTOELECTRONICS, OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY and at least one other company. 
     Participants from OSU would include Dr. Robert Dixon from the Radio
     Observatory, and staff from OSU's Department of Astronomy.

PHASE 3(b) Alternative

Object:   To design and produce an instrumentation package for a limited
          space-based Optical SETI activity, that could be retrofitted into
          the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).  This might be done after the
          HST has reached the official end of its 15 year life.

     (a)  Design and construct retrofit instrument package.

     (b)  Deploy package.

     (c)  Assess preliminary data obtained after deployment.

     (d)  Detailed report and engineering specifications of the prototype
          space-based Optical SETI facility and initial experimental and
          observational results.

     (e)  Recommend whether a dedicated second- or third-generation Space
          Telescope should be constructed and launched, with its facilities
          largely dedicated to Optical SETI work, or whether such a facility
          should be built as part of Space Station Freedom.

     (f)  Estimate costs of a dedicated spaced-based facility, e.g., second-
          or third-generation Space Telescope.

     This is an optional third phase that may not be required if ground-
     based Optical SETI can be done efficiently, particularly if ETI signals
     are discovered within the atmospheric optical windows.  The results of
     this limited exercise in space-based Optical SETI could be carried over
     to the deployment of a larger Second- or Third-Generation Space
     Telescope devoted to Optical SETI.  Alternatively, it might be
     something that is best relegated to Space Station Freedom, even though
     the latter is now under a cloud and undergoing serious reconsideration. 
     NASA may wish to consider whether an Optical SETI activity might give
     the space station some of the focus it has recently appeared to lack.

PHASE 4(a)

Object:   To modify existing large ground-based telescopes for Optical SETI.

     (a)  Select suitable sites, with at least one in the northern
          hemisphere and one in the southern.

     (b)  Based on the data collected from Phase 3(a), proceed to modify
          selected optical observatories.

     (c)  Begin a program of Optical SETI observations at star systems
          thought most likely to support life.

     (d)  Report on progress made after 1 year of observations.

PHASE 4(b) Alternative

Object:   To construct and launch a new Space Telescope facility largely
          dedicated to Optical SETI, but with considerations given to its
          very important Light Science capabilities.

     (a)  Place contracts for design of new Space Telescope, incorporating
          the knowledge base obtained from earlier phases of this program.

     (b)  Place contracts for the construction of the new Space Telescope.

     (c)  Launch and deploy new Space Telescope.

     (d)  Begin a program of Optical SETI observations at star systems
          thought most likely to support life.

     (e)  Report on progress made after 1 year of observations.


Object:   To carry out a systematic ground-based (or space-based) search for
          microwave and optical signals of extraterrestrial origin.  At the
          start of this phase, the program will be named the Microwave &
          Optical Observation Project (MOOP), if this has not been done

     (a)  To use existing ground-based or new space-based optical telescopes
          to carry out a Targeted Search of about 800 nearby solar-type
          stars with high spectral resolution (10 kHz or a bandwidth yet to
          be determined) and sensitivity at selected laser wavelengths over
          the range 400 nm to 11,000 nm.

     (b)  To use other existing ground-based or a new space-based optical
          telescope to carry out a Sky Survey that will examine the whole
          sky at moderate spectral resolution (1 MHz or a bandwidth yet to
          be determined) over the wavelength range 400 nm to 11,000 nm.

Apologies for borrowing heavily from the MOP program.  The duration of the
Phase 5 program would cover the period 2000-2010 or slightly later if a
dedicated space-based facility has to be constructed.  This first decade of
the new millennium has particular significance to fans of Arthur C. Clarke. 
Cost of this second ten-year duration program is likely to be in excess of
$300 million for ground-based systems.  If dedicated space-based facilities
are employed, costs would rise by between one and two orders of magnitude.

While we probably would not want to start a systematic MOOP activity before
completion of MOP, it would be wise to have all our questions answered and
the technology worked out before the year 2000.  In that way, MOOP can start
in earnest, if necessary, immediately on completion of the first decade of
MOP.  It is envisaged that MOP itself would continue under the new name of
MOOP, but perhaps space-based and at microwave frequencies from 10 GHz to
several hundred GHz.

It is imagined, that as with all phased programs, successive programs will
be progressive in both level of effort, time and cost.  I would be pleased
to get your response to the above early in the New Year, and submit a formal
Phase 1 proposal on request.

You may be aware that I have suggested to both Dr. Jill Tarter and
Dr. Bernard Oliver, on more than one occasion, that the SETI Institute give
serious consideration to organizing a one or two-day Seminar on Optical
(Visible & Infrared) SETI, to which you would seek the participation of all
the scientists who have something to contribute in this area.  I need hardly
add that I would be more than willing to make a major contribution to this
seminar.  Indeed, I would offer to help organize it.

At the moment, you have all your eggs in the microwave basket; not a good
idea if there is reason to believe that a key area of the present SETI
rationale is suspect.  I should not need to add that at this time, as NASA
is coming under much closer scrutiny from Congress and the tax-payer, how
vitally important it is for NASA to be seen making the correct decisions. 
The level of certainty that so many in the SETI community ascribed to the
microwave approach may come back to haunt you, and severely damage SETI's
credibility with those that control its funding.  As I have previously
suggested to Jill Tarter, it would be wise to begin backing off from the
present anti-optical approach.  The most prudent statement that a SETI
official can make today is that "Whilst the microwave regime below 10 GHz
appears presently to be the most logical part of the electromagnetic
spectrum to conduct the initial "search", there is evidence to suggest that
the infrared and visible regimes also have great merit, and could possibly
be preferred by advanced technical civilizations".


Dr. Stuart A. Kingsley

P.S. I will shortly be sending Bob Arnold, at his request, a videocassette
     containing some historical news of the political events in England a
     few short weeks ago.  This is mainly the BBC 6 pm news (recorded here
     via satellite at 1 pm EST), and is in NTSC/525.  Clive Goodall, who is
     a Maggie groupie, viewed some of this material with me when it was live
     - it was a pretty exciting time.  Bob will pass it on to you after he
     has viewed the tape.

     I am sorry that I couldn't find your 24-digit intergalactic Zip code! 
     Happy New Year.

December 24, 1990
BBOARD No. 284

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* Dr. Stuart A. Kingsley                       Copyright (c), 1990        *
* AMIEE, SMIEEE                                                           *
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