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Proceedings Paper

Present and future space applications of photon-counting lidars
Author(s): John J. Degnan
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Paper Abstract

The first space application of photon-counting lidars occurred shortly after the landing of Apollo 11 on the Moon. Various scientific groups used lasers to range to retroreflector panels left on the lunar surface by the astronauts. Because of the great distances involved (384,000 km one-way) and practical limitations on laser energy and telescope aperture, the detected signals were necessarily at the single photon level. The Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) effort has continued uninterrupted over the past four decades and has allowed scientists to study solar system dynamics, Earth-lunar interactions, and lunar properties. It has also served as a testbed for relativistic theories. Since the mid-1990's, the author has applied the photon-counting technique to a number of new space applications. These include: (1) an eyesafe satellite laser ranging system which presently tracks high altitude (6000 km) satellites with sub-cm precision at kHz rates with only 60 microjoules of transmitted energy; (2) an airborne, high resolution 3D imaging lidar which operates day or night and can be scaled to globally and contiguously map extraterrestrial moons from 100 km orbits; (3) an upcoming NASA mission for mapping the Earth's surface in 3D from a 600 km orbit; and (4) interplanetary ranging and time transfer via two-way laser transponders. The present paper provides an overview of these efforts.

Paper Details

Date Published: 6 May 2009
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 7323, Laser Radar Technology and Applications XIV, 73230E (6 May 2009); doi: 10.1117/12.817860
Show Author Affiliations
John J. Degnan, Sigma Space Corp. (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 7323:
Laser Radar Technology and Applications XIV
Monte D. Turner; Gary W. Kamerman, Editor(s)

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