Laser illumination systems regularly employ an estimation model, referred to as the range equation, to determine system requirements to assure that sufficient signal levels exist. Satellite imaging necessarily employs an estimate of the active optical cross section (OCS) of the illuminated object. This normally assumes the object is a Lambertian reflector. The OCS is typically the least well characterized element of the range equation. In this paper, we use pointing estimates and statistical methods to obtain field estimates of satellite OCS. If an object were illuminated perfectly, a simple inversion of the range equation would provide the OCS. However, for a laser system with a narrow divergence beam, mechanical and atmospheric effects cause frequent off-center illuminations. Because of the random off-center illumination, two statistical approaches, referred to as the peak and mean methods, are described that estimate the OCS and detect non-Lambertian returns known as glints. The peak method relies on the fact that while an object may not be fully illuminated, statistically as the number of shots increases the peak return will approximate that from a full illumination. The mean method establishes that the average of multiple illuminations must statistically represent a fraction of the full illumination. Both methods provide a statistical distribution of OCS estimates and neither requires an imaging system.© (2001) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.