Free Newsletters - Space News - Defense Alert - Environment Report - Energy Monitor
. Space Industry and Business News .




TECH SPACE
NASA Technologists Embrace Laser Instrument Challenge
by Kate Ramsayer for Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Nov 07, 2013


Goddard scientist David Harding and Goddard technologist Tony Yu are developing a lidar system that could meet an ambitious requirement of the proposed LIST mission. Image Credit: Bill Hrybck/NASA

In 2007, the National Research Council threw down a challenge: Design a space-based laser altimeter that could measure the height of Earth's surface everywhere to within a mere 10 centimeters - all at 5-meter resolution. To this day, some believe it can't be done.

Goddard scientist Dave Harding begs to differ.

He and his team have embraced the challenge and are developing a laser altimeter that could provide the data from a berth onboard the NRC-proposed Lidar Surface Topography, or LIST, mission. It would generate highly detailed maps of topography and vegetation that scientists could use to forecast and respond to natural hazards and study carbon storage in forests.

"There's no launch date for LIST. It's way out there sometime because most people say there's no way anybody can do this," Harding said. "But we want to show, yeah, you can. And we want to move it forward."

Lidar systems use lasers from airplanes to scan swaths of the ground below, timing the return of photons to create a complete and detailed 3-D elevation map of the tree canopy and ground below.

Highly detailed elevation maps, such as those the LIST mission would create, could provide an intricate view of forest structure - where limbs branch off, how much potential wildfire fuel is building up on the forest floor, and more. Scientists could use these maps to help predict fire severity, or analyze wildlife habitat, Harding said. Detailed lidar information could also help keep an eye on volcanoes, track landslides, and search for coastal hazards.

To create global elevation maps from space, however, things get complicated. Satellites travel much faster, so scanning a single laser beam would create big gaps between the zigzag pattern. Consequently, more beams are needed and that requires a lot more power - a limited resource on a spacecraft. And from about 250 miles up, the laser photons need to travel far to create a high-resolution elevation map.

Harding and his colleagues, including Goddard technologist Tony Yu - a recognized expert in lidar technologies - are tackling the LIST lidar challenge from several angles, including power-efficient lasers, more sensitive photon-counting detectors, and a new lidar architecture.

Tackling the Challenge
First is the problem of the laser itself. To get the necessary 5-meter resolution along the planned 5-kilometer swath, Harding says an instrument would need 1,000 beams. In sharp contrast, the first ICESat (Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite) laser altimeter had one. ICESat-2, scheduled for a 2016 launch, has six.

"You've got to get much more efficient to get from one beam to 1,000 beams because the spacecraft has three limits - power, mass, and volume," Harding said.

To get a more efficient, space-friendly laser, Yu has been working with the Raytheon Co. to combine several technologies, including a highly polished rare-earth-metals microchip laser and a thin, planar waveguide amplifier to increase efficiency. Yu also has scrapped more traditional high-voltage electro-optic switches to generate the laser pulses, opting instead for a passive switching technique that doesn't require any power. The new laser, Yu said, already has proven to be more than twice as efficient as more traditional models.

With these features and more, the team believes it will be able to generate a laser that is close to 50 watts - compared with the 9-watt ICESat-2 laser. The scientists' idea is to have an array of 10 of these 50-watt lasers, each split up into 100 beams, to get LIST to the 1,000 beams necessary for high-resolution coverage.

"I think we're on the path to getting there, to demonstrating one stage of the 10 we'd have to build for LIST," Yu said.

To ensure the instrument is harmless to people on the ground, the scientists calculate what the intensity of each flight mission's beam would be as it hits the ground, he said. Factoring in the distance from the spacecraft, and how the beam has a diffuse footprint when it reaches Earth's surface, the energy is small enough to be safe, he said, even to those using binoculars or other visual aids.

In designing the LIST instrument, the right number of lasers firing the right number of photons isn't enough. It also will have to detect those photons when they bounce back to the satellite. Harding and Yu's vision for LIST is to use linear-mode detector arrays. Each element of these advanced-technology arrays can count the number of individual photons that return to the satellite at the same time, providing a more complete picture that maps the shrubs, low branches, and forest canopies.

The detectors also would be sensitive to the polarization of the returning photons. Laser pulses are polarized when they leave the lidar, Harding said, but when they bounce off trees or the ground, some of the photons change polarization. When they bounce off water, however, they all reflect with the same polarization. Having a photon-counting detector that could record polarization would help researchers characterize the land cover, elevation, and identify the location of surface water.

An Eye Toward Space
With funding from NASA's Earth Science Technology Office and Goddard's Internal Research and Development program, the team has developed two airborne instruments that demonstrated the polarization measurement and the more efficient measurement approach.

The plan is to fly one of these highly sensitive multi-photon detector arrays in space on a small CubeSat satellite. In addition, the team is applying for funding to build an instrument called the Lidar Earth Venture Ecosystem Explorer, or Leaves, which would fully demonstrate the technologies that are key for LIST. The team wants to fly this instrument, which would be equipped with 25 laser beams and other advanced technologies, on the International Space Station.

"Our airborne instruments are smart, but we want to get way smarter with an instrument on the space station for LIST," Harding said.

.


Related Links
IceBridge
SIMPL
ICEsat
Space Technology News - Applications and Research






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News





TECH SPACE
Historic Demonstration Proves Laser Communication Possible
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Oct 31, 2013
In the early morning hours of Oct. 18, NASA's Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a rate of 622 Megabits-per-second (Mbps). That download rate is more than six times faster than previous state-of-the-art radio systems flown to the moon. "It was amazing how quickly we were able to acquire the first signals, especially f ... read more


TECH SPACE
NASA Technologists Embrace Laser Instrument Challenge

High Energy Prairie View A and M Interns Collaborate with NASA Goddard on Radiation Effects Research

Less Toxic Metabolites, More Chemical Product

A noble yet simple way to synthesize new metal-free electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction reaction

TECH SPACE
Raytheon expands international footprint of electronic warfare capability

Latest AEHF Comms Payload Gets Boost From Customized Integrated Circuits

Northrop Grumman Receives Contract to Retrofit Joint STARS Fleet

Latest AEHF Comms Payload Gets Boost From Customized Integrated Circuits

TECH SPACE
Kazakhstan say Baikonur launch site may be open to Western countries

ESA Swarm launch postponed

Europe's fifth ATV for launch by Arianespace begins its pre-flight checkout at the Spaceport

ILS Proton Launches Sirius FM-6 Satellite

TECH SPACE
How pigeons may smell their way home

UK conservationists using location-based system ManagePlaces

A Better Way to Track Your Every Move

China's satellite navigation system to start oversea operation next year

TECH SPACE
NASA Researchers to Flying Insects: 'Bug Off!'

First harbor trial completed for Australian helicopter docking vessel

Seoul eyes export market for its Surion light helicopter

Declassified: USAF tested secretly acquired Soviet fighters in Area 51

TECH SPACE
Synaptic transistor learns while it computes

Nanoscale engineering boosts performance of quantum dot light emitting diodes

JQI team 'gets the edge' on photon transport in silicon

Atomically Thin Device Promises New Class of Electronics

TECH SPACE
Global map provides new insights into land use

Sensor Payloads Lift Off With Availability of Complete Hyperspectral Airborne Solution

Seeing in the dark

Researchers Turn to Technology to Discover a Novel Way of Mapping Landscapes

TECH SPACE
200 million people at risk from toxic pollution: environmentalists

Girl, 8, is China's youngest lung cancer case

China climate negotiator laments 'severe' pollution

Gold mining ravages Peru




The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2014 - Space Media Network. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement