NASA perfects Lidar tech for space exploration

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is leading groundbreaking efforts to enhance lidar technology, a vital tool for remote sensing, mapping, and more.

| Updated on: Oct 27 2023, 07:16 IST
Aditya -L1 Mission: ISRO’s maiden solar mission heading toward the Sun
lidar technology
1/5 ISRO's Aditya-L1 mission, launched on September 2, 2023, marks India's inaugural dedicated mission to study the Sun's photosphere, chromosphere, and corona. The spacecraft is now en route to its ultimate destination, the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 1 (L1).   (ANI)
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2/5 Lagrange points are unique positions in space where the gravitational forces of two massive bodies, in this case, the Sun and Earth, perfectly balance the centripetal force required for a smaller object, like a spacecraft, to remain in sync. These points minimize the need for orbit corrections and fuel consumption, making them ideal for scientific missions. (ANI)
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3/5 Among the five Lagrange points, L1 is especially significant because it is situated between the Sun and Earth, offering a prime location for spacecraft. This positioning enables continuous observation of both primary bodies, unbroken communication with Earth, and an unobstructed view of celestial objects. (ANI)
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4/5 Aditya-L1 will adopt a 'Halo orbit' around L1, situated approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Halo orbits are three-dimensional paths around a Lagrange Point, providing continuous visibility from Earth, resembling a halo. (ANI)
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5/5 Space missions, such as the International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3), the Genesis mission, ESA's LISA Pathfinder, China's Chang'e 5 lunar orbiter, and NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Recovery (GRAIL) mission, have previously leveraged the Sun-Earth L1 point to enhance our understanding of space and monitor space weather events. Several operational spacecraft currently occupy this location, playing a crucial role in providing early warnings about adverse space weather events, safeguarding orbiting space assets and ground-based infrastructure. (ANI)
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NASA's advancements in lidar technology promise to transform the way we explore and understand distant worlds, with foldable optics and multi-wavelength lasers leading the charge. Pic credit: NASA (NASA)

Smaller, lighter, more versatile tools for space exploration. That is exactly what NASA has been trying to do with Lidar technology and the progress made looks to be quite impressive.

Lidar technology plays a crucial role in aiding NASA scientists and explorers by enabling remote sensing, surveying, mapping, 3D-image scanning, hazard detection, and navigation.

Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging, is a remote sensing technology akin to sonar and radar, utilizing light pulses to accurately measure distances and object properties.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is at the forefront of efforts to advance lidar technology for various applications, including communication, planetary exploration, and space operations.

One innovation involves the development of foldable, flat lidar optics by research engineer Mark Stephen. This technology incorporates deployable, segmented telescopes with state-of-the-art flat-panel optics that fold into origami-inspired panels. The goal is to provide the benefits of lidar technology for future missions while reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

The size, weight, and power requirements of traditional lidar systems often limit their use in space missions, making advancements in compact, lightweight solutions essential.

Flat optics utilize nano-structured materials to manipulate individual photons, performing functions similar to bulkier lenses and mirrors, but in a lightweight, flat-panel design.

The aim is to create a family of instruments with greater flexibility to balance size, weight, power, and performance to suit the specific needs of each mission.

Another innovative approach comes from Goddard engineer Guangning Yang, who is working on CASALS (Concurrent Artificially intelligent Spectrometry and Adaptive Lidar System). CASALS produces multiple wavelengths of light from a single laser pulse, eliminating the need for multiple beams of the same wavelength to increase accuracy.

CASALS technology changes the laser's wavelength at a high speed, allowing different wavelengths of light to exit the laser transmitter at various angles, sweeping across the target, making it more efficient and smaller than conventional lidar instruments.

These advancements in lidar technology, such as flat optics and wavelength scanning, open up new possibilities for scientific research and exploration, promising to revolutionize the way we navigate and understand distant worlds and celestial bodies, according to Cheryl Gramling, assistant chief for technology at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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First Published Date: 27 Oct, 07:16 IST