SALSA: a tool to estimate the stray light contamination for low-Earth orbit observatories
Stray light contamination reduces considerably the precision of photometric of faint stars for low altitude space-borne observatories. When measuring faint objects, the necessity of coping with stray light contamination arises in order to avoid systematic impacts on low signal-to-noise images. Stray light contamination can be represented by a flat offset in CCD data. Mitigation techniques begin by a comprehensive study during the design phase, followed by the use of target pointing optimisation and post-processing methods. We present a code that aims at simulating the stray-light contamination in low-Earth orbit coming from reflexion of solar light by the Earth. StrAy Light SimulAtor (SALSA) is a tool intended to be used at an early stage as a tool to evaluate the effective visible region in the sky and, therefore to optimise the observation sequence. SALSA can compute Earth stray light contamination for significant periods of time allowing mission-wide parameters to be optimised (e.g. impose constraints on the point source transmission function (PST) and/or on the altitude of the satellite). It can also be used to study the behaviour of the stray light at different seasons or latitudes. Given the position of the satellite with respect to the Earth and the Sun, SALSA computes the stray light at the entrance of the telescope following a geometrical technique. After characterising the illuminated region of the Earth, the portion of illuminated Earth that affects the satellite is calculated. Then, the flux of reflected solar photons is evaluated at the entrance of the telescope. Using the PST of the instrument, the final stray light contamination at the detector is calculated. The analysis tools include time series analysis of the contamination, evaluation of the sky coverage and an objects visibility predictor. Effects of the South Atlantic Anomaly and of any shutdown periods of the instrument can be added. Several designs or mission concepts can be easily tested and compared. The code is not thought as a stand-alone mission designer. Its mandatory inputs are a time series describing the trajectory of the satellite and the characteristics of the instrument. This software suite has been applied to the design and analysis of CHEOPS (CHaracterizing ExoPlanet Satellite). This mission requires very high precision photometry to detect very shallow transits of exoplanets. Different altitudes and characteristics of the detector have been studied in order to find the best parameters, that reduce the effect of contamination.