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Lidar Remote-Sensing Technologies


Scope Title:

Lidar Remote-Sensing Technologies

Scope Description:

This NASA SBIR subtopic seeks to advance laser/lidar technologies to overcome critical observational gaps in Earth and planetary science.  NASA recognizes the potential of lidar technology to meet many of its science objectives by providing new capabilities or offering enhancements over current measurements of atmospheric, geophysical, and topographic parameters from ground, airborne, and space-based platforms. To meet NASA’s requirements for remote sensing from space, advances are needed in state-of-the-art lidar technology with an emphasis on compactness, efficiency, reliability, lifetime, and high performance. Innovative lidar subsystem and component technologies that directly address the measurement of atmospheric constituents and surface features of the Earth, Mars, Moon, and other planetary bodies will be considered under this subtopic. Compact, high-efficiency lidar instruments for deployment on unconventional platforms, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, SmallSats, and CubeSats are also considered and encouraged. Proposals must show relevance to the development of lidar instruments that can be used for NASA science-focused measurements or to support current technology programs. Meeting science needs leads to four primary measurement types:

  • Backscatter: Measures the profile of beam backscatter and attenuation from aerosols and clouds in the atmosphere to retrieve the optical and microphysical properties of suspended particulates. 
  • Laser spectral absorption: Measures the profile of laser absorption by trace gases from atmospheric (aerosol/cloud) or surface backscatter and volatiles on surfaces of airless planetary bodies at multiple laser wavelengths to the retrieve concentration of gas within the measurement volume.
  • Altimetry: An accurate measure of distance to hard targets in the atmosphere and ocean.
  • Doppler: Measures wavelength changes in the return beam to retrieve velocity, direction of velocity vector, and turbulence.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of the Project: 3 to 6

Primary Technology Taxonomy:

  • Level 1 08 Sensors and Instruments
  • Level 2 08.1 Remote Sensing Instruments/Sensors

Desired Deliverables of Phase I and Phase II:

  • Prototype
  • Hardware
  • Software

Desired Deliverables Description:

Phase I research should demonstrate technical feasibility and show a path toward a Phase II prototype unit.  A typical Phase I deliverable could be a technical report demonstrating the feasibility of the technology and a design that is to be built under a Phase II program.  In some instances where a small subsystem is under investigation, a prototype deliverable under the Phase I is acceptable.


Phase II prototypes should be capable of laboratory demonstration and preferably suitable for operation in the field from a ground-based station, an aircraft platform, or any science platform amply defended by the proposer.  Higher fidelity Phase II prototypes that are fielded in harsh environments such as aircraft often require follow-on programs such as Phase III SBIR to evaluate and optimize performance in relevant environment.


As seen in the section below on “State of the Art and Critical Gaps,” desired deliverables, technologies and components should be applicable to subsystem or system-level lidar technology solutions, as opposed to stand-alone components such as lasers or photodetectors of unspecified applicability to a measurement goal.

State of the Art and Critical Gaps:

  • Transformative technologies and architectures are sought to vastly reduce the cost, size, and complexity of lidar instruments from a system perspective. Advances are sought for operation on a wide range of compact (SmallSat, CubeSat, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle size) packages. Reduction in the complexity and environmental sensitivity of laser architectures is sought, while still meeting performance metrics for the measured geophysical observable. Novel thermal management systems for laser, optical, and electronic subsystems are also sought to increase efficiency, decrease physical footprint, and transition laser systems to more compact platforms. New materials concepts could be of interest for the reduction of weight for lidar-specific telescopes, optical benches, and subcomponents.  Integrated subsystems combining laser, optical, fiber, and/or photodetector components are of interest for reducing the size, weight, and power (SWaP) of lidar instruments.
  • Compact, efficient, tunable, and rugged narrow-linewidth pulsed lasers operating between ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths suitable for lidar are sought. Specific wavelengths are of interest to match absorption lines or atmospheric transmission are: 290 to 320 nm (ozone absorption), 420 to 490 nm (ocean sensing), 532 nm (aerosols), 820 and 935 nm (water vapor lines), 1064 nm (aerosols), 1550 nm (Doppler wind), 1645 to 1650 nm (high pulse energy (>10 mJ) for methane line, Doppler wind, and orbital debris tracking), and 3000 to 4000 nm (hydrocarbon lines and ice measurement).  For pulsed lasers two different regimes of repetition rate and pulse energies are desired: from 1 to 10 kHz with pulse energy greater than 1 mJ and from 20 to 100 Hz with pulse energy greater than 100 mJ. For laser spectral absorption applications, such as differential absorption lidar, a single frequency (pulse transform limited) and frequency-agile source is required to tune >200 pm on a shot-by-shot basis while maintaining high spectral purity (>1,000:1). Direct generation of laser light in the 820 nm spectral band without use of nonlinear optics (e.g., parametric conversion or harmonic conversion) is sought after for space-based water vapor DIAL (differential absorption lidar) applications. Technology solutions employing cryogenic lasers are encouraged to help improve efficiency and enable use of new laser materials. Laser sources of wavelength at or around 780 nm are not sought this year. Laser sources for lidar measurements of carbon dioxide are not sought this year.
  • Novel approaches and components for lidar receivers are sought, matching one or more of the wavelengths listed in the bullet above. Such receiver technology could include integrated optical/photonic circuitry, freeform telescopes and/or aft optics, frequency-agile ultra-narrow-band solar blocking filters for water vapor DIAL (<10 pm full width at half maximum, >80% transmission, and phase locked to the transmit wavelength), and phased-array or electro-optical beam scanners for large ( >10 cm) apertures. Integrated receivers for Doppler wind measurement at 1550 or 1650 nm wavelength are sought for coherent heterodyne detection at bandwidths of 1 GHz or higher, combining local oscillator laser, photodetector, and/or fiber mixing. Development of telescopes should be submitted to a different subtopic (S12.03), unless the design is specifically a lidar component, such as a telescope integrated with other optics. Receivers for direct detection wind lidar are not sought this year.
  • New three-dimensional (3D) mapping and hazard detection lidar with compact and high-efficiency lasers to measure range and surface reflectance of planets or asteroids from >100 km altitude during mapping to <1 m during landing or sample collection, within SWaP to fit into a CubeSat package or smaller. New high-resolution 3D lidar with appropriate SWaP for stratospheric platforms for wild fire fuel modeling. New lidar technologies are sought that allow system reconfiguration in orbit, single photon sensitivities and single beam for long-distance measurement, and variable dynamic range and multiple beams for near-range measurements.  High-speed, low-SWaP 2D scanners are also sought for single-beam lidars that enable wide scan angles with high repeatability and accuracy.

Relevance / Science Traceability:

The proposed subtopic addresses missions, programs, and projects identified by the Science Mission Directorate (SMD), including:

  • Atmospheric water vapor: Profiling of tropospheric water vapor supports studies in weather and dynamics, radiation budget, clouds, and aerosol processes.
  • Aerosols: Profiling of atmospheric aerosols and how aerosols relate to clouds and precipitation. 
  • Atmospheric winds: Profiling of wind fields to support studies in weather and atmospheric dynamics on Earth and atmospheric structure of planets.
  • Topography: Altimetry to support studies of vegetation and the cryosphere of Earth, as well as the surface of planets and solar system bodies.
  • Greenhouse gases: Column measurements of atmospheric gases, such as methane, that affect climate variability.
  • Hydrocarbons: Measurements of planetary atmospheres.
  • Gases related to air quality: Sensing of tropospheric ozone, nitrogen dioxide, or formaldehyde to support NASA projects in atmospheric chemistry and health effects.
  • Automated landing, hazard avoidance, and docking: Technologies to aid spacecraft and lander maneuvering and safe operations.


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