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Shuttle Laser Altimeter (SLA): A pathfinder for space-based laser altimetry and lidarThe Shuttle Laser Altimeter (SLA) is a Hitchhiker experiment now being integrated for first flight on STS-72 in November 1995. Four Shuttle flights of the SLA are planned at a rate of about a flight every 18 months. They are aimed at the transition of the Goddard Space Flight Center airborne laser altimeter and lidar technology to low Earth orbit as a pathfinder for operational space-based laser remote sensing devices. Future alser altimeter sensors such as the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS), an Earth Observing System facility instrument, and the Multi-Beam Laser Altimeter (MBLA), the land and vegetation laser altimeter for the NASA TOPSAT (Topography Satellite) Mission, will utilize systems and approaches being tested with SLA. The SLA Instrument measures the distance from the Space Shuttle to the Earth's surface by timing the two-way propagation of short (approximately 10 na noseconds) laser pulses. laser pulses at 1064 nm wavelength are generated in a laser transmitter and are detected by a telescope equipped with a silicon avalanche photodiode detector. The SLA data system makes the pulse time interval measurement to a precision of about 10 nsec and also records the temporal shape of the laser echo from the Earth's surface for interpretation of surface height distribution within the 100 m diam. sensor footprint. For example, tree height can be determined by measuring the characteristic double-pulse signature that results from a separation in time of laser backscatter from tree canopies and the underlying ground. This is accomplished with a pulse waveform digitizer that samples the detector output with an adjustable resolution of 2 nanoseconds or wider intervals in a 100 sample window centered on the return pulse echo. The digitizer makes the SLA into a high resolution surface lidar sensor. It can also be used for cloud and atmospheric aerosol lidar measurements by lengthening the sampling window and degrading the waveform resolution. Detailed test objectives for the STS-72 mission center on the acquisition of sample data sets for land topography and vegetation height, waveform digitizer performance, and verification of data acquisition algorithms. The operational concept of SLA is illustrated in Fig. 1 where a series of 100 m footprints stretch in a profile of Earth surface topography along the nadir track of the Space Shuttle. The location of SLA as a dual canister payload on the Hitchhiker Bridge Assembly in Bay 12 of the Space Shuttle Endeavor can also be noted in this figure. Full interpretation of the SLA range measurement data set requires a 1 m knowledge of the Orbiter trajectory and better than 0.1 deg knowledge of Orbiter pointing angle. These ancillary data sets will be acquired during the STS-72 mission with an on-board Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, K-band range and range-rate tracking of the Orbiter through TDRSS, and use of on-board inertial measurement units and star trackers. Integration and interpretation of all these different data sets as a pathfinder investigation for accurate determination of Earth surface elevation is the overall science of the SLA investigation.
Document ID
Document Type
Conference Paper
Bufton, Jack
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Blair, Bryan
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Cavanaugh, John
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Garvin, James
(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Greenbelt, MD, United States)
Date Acquired
September 6, 2013
Publication Date
September 1, 1995
Publication Information
Publication: The 1995 Shuttle Small Payloads Symposium
Subject Category
Lasers And Masers
Accession Number
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
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