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Lidar Remote-Sensing Technologies


Scope Title:

LidarRemote-Sensing Technologies


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

  • Backscatter: Measures the profile of beambackscatter and attenuation from aerosols and clouds in theatmosphere as well as particulates in the ocean toretrieve the optical and microphysical properties of suspendedparticulates. 
  • Laser spectral absorption: Measures theprofile of laser absorption by trace gases from atmospheric(aerosol/cloud) or surface backscatter and volatiles on surfaces ofairless planetary bodies at multiple laser wavelengths to the retrieveconcentration of gas within the measurement volume.
  • Altimetry: An accurate measure of distanceto hard targets in the atmosphere and ocean.
  • Doppler: Measures wavelength changes in thereturn beam to retrieve velocity, direction of velocity vector, andturbulence.

Expected TRL or TRL Range at completion of theProject: 3 to 6

Primary TechnologyTaxonomy:

  • Level 1 08 Sensorsand Instruments
  • Level 2 08.1 RemoteSensingInstruments/Sensors

DesiredDeliverables of Phase I and PhaseII:

  • Prototype
  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Research
  • Analysis

DesiredDeliverables Description:

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


Phase II prototypes shouldbe capable of laboratory demonstration and preferably suitable foroperation in the field from a ground-based station, an aircraftplatform, or any science platform amply defended by theproposer.  Higher fidelity Phase II prototypes that are fieldedin harsh environments such as aircraft often require follow-on programssuch as Phase III SBIR to evaluate and optimize performance in arelevant environment.


As seen in the sectionbelow on “State of the Art and Critical Gaps,”desired deliverables, technologies, and components should beapplicable to subsystem or system-level lidar technology solutions, asopposed to stand-alone components such as lasers orphotodetectors of unspecified applicability to a measurementgoal.

State of the Art and CriticalGaps:

  • Transformative technologies andarchitectures are sought to vastly reduce the cost, size, and complexityof lidar instruments from a system perspective or to enable detectionbeyond classical limits. Advances are sought for operation on a widerange of compact (SmallSat, CubeSat, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle size)packages. Reduction in the complexity and environmentalsensitivity of laser architectures is sought, while still meetingperformance metrics for the measured geophysicalobservable. Novel thermal management systems for laser,optical, and electronic subsystems are also sought to increaseefficiency, decrease physical footprint, and transition laser systems tomore compact platforms. New materials concepts could be of interest forthe reduction of weight for lidar-specific telescopes, optical benches,and subcomponents.  Integrated subsystems combining laser,optical, fiber, and/or photodetector components are of interest forreducing the size, weight, and power (SWaP) of lidarinstruments.
  • Compact, efficient, tunable,and rugged narrow-linewidth pulsed lasers operating between ultravioletand infrared wavelengths suitable for lidar are sought. Specificwavelengths of interest to match absorption lines or atmospherictransmission are: 290 to 320 nm (ozone absorption), 420 to 490 nm (oceansensing), 532 nm (aerosols), 820 and 935 nm (water vaporlines), 1064 nm (aerosols), 1550 nm (Doppler wind), 1645 to 1650 nm(high pulse energy (>10 mJ) for methane line, Doppler wind, andorbital debris tracking), and 3000 to 4000 nm (hydrocarbonlines and ice measurement).  For pulsed lasers two differentregimes of repetition rate and pulse energies are desired: from 1 to 10kHz with pulse energy greater than 1 mJ and from 20 to 100 Hz with pulseenergy greater than 100 mJ. For laser spectral absorption applications,such as differential absorption lidar, a single frequency (pulsetransform limited) and frequency-agile source is required to tune>200 pm on a shot-by-shot basis while maintaining high spectralpurity (>1,000:1). Direct generation of laser light in the 820 nmspectral band without use of nonlinear optics (e.g., parametricconversion or harmonic conversion) is sought after forspace-based water vapor DIAL (differential absorption lidar)applications. Technology solutions employing cryogenic lasersare encouraged to help improve efficiency and enable use of new lasermaterials. Laser sources of wavelength at or around 780 nm arenot sought this year. Laser sources for lidar measurements of carbondioxide are not sought this year.
  • Novel approaches andcomponents for lidar receivers are sought, matching one or more of thewavelengths listed in the bullet above. Such receivertechnology could include integrated optical/photonic circuitry, freeformtelescopes and/or aft optics, frequency-agile ultra-narrow-band solarblocking filters for water vapor DIAL (<10 pm full widthat half maximum, >80% transmission, and phase locked to thetransmit wavelength), and phased-array or electro-optical beam scannersfor large ( >10 cm) apertures. Nonmechanical scanners (beamsteering) >50 cm are also desired. Integrated receivers forDoppler wind measurement at 1550 or 1650 nmwavelengths are sought for coherent heterodyne detection at bandwidthsof 1 GHz or higher, combining local oscillator laser, photodetector,and/or fiber mixing. Development of telescopes should be submitted to adifferent subtopic (S12.03), unless the design is specifically a lidarcomponent, such as a telescope integrated with otheroptics. Similarly, proposals for the development of detectortechnology should be submitted to a different subtopic (S11.04) unlessthe innovation specifically targets a particular lidar application. Receivers for direct detection wind lidar are not sought thisyear.
  • New three-dimensional (3D)mapping and hazard-detection lidar are sought with compact andhigh-efficiency lasers to measure range and surface reflectance ofplanets or asteroids from >100 km altitude during mapping to<1 m during landing or sample collection, within SWaP tofit into a CubeSat package or smaller. New high-resolution 3D lidar withappropriate SWaP for stratospheric platforms for wild fire fuelmodeling. New lidar technologies are sought that allow systemreconfiguration in orbit, single-photon sensitivities and single beamfor long-distance measurement, and variable dynamic range and multiplebeams for near-range measurements. Ground- and low-Earth-orbit-(LEO-) based lidar systems used for the detection and tracking oforbital debris targets are also of interest. High-speed, low-SWaP 2Dscanners are also sought for single-beam lidars that enable wide scanangles with high repeatability and accuracy.

Relevance / ScienceTraceability:

The proposedsubtopic addresses missions, programs, and projects identified by theSMD, including:

  • Atmospheric water vapor: Profiling of tropospheric water vaporsupports studies in weather and dynamics, radiation budget, clouds, andaerosol processes.
  • Aerosols: Profiling ofatmospheric aerosols and how aerosols relate to clouds andprecipitation. 
  • Atmospheric winds: Profilingof wind fields to support studies in weather and atmospheric dynamics onEarth and atmospheric structure of planets.
  • Topography: Altimetry tosupport studies of vegetation and the cryosphere of Earth, aswell as the surface of planets and solar systembodies.
  • Greenhouse gases: Columnmeasurements of atmospheric gases, such as methane, that affect climatevariability.
  • Hydrocarbons: Measurementsof planetary atmospheres.
  • Gases related to airquality: Sensing of tropospheric ozone, nitrogen dioxide, orformaldehyde to support NASA projects in atmospheric chemistry andhealth effects.
  • Automated landing, hazard avoidance, anddocking: Technologies to aid spacecraft and lander maneuvering and safeoperations.


  • NASA missions are aligned with the NationalResearch Council's decadal surveys, with the latest survey onEarth science published in 2018, "Thriving on OurChanging Planet: A Decadal Strategy for Earth Observation fromSpace":
  • For planetary science, NASA missionsare aligned with the National Academies' Decadal Survey titled"Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey2023-2032":
  • Description of NASA lidar instruments andapplications can be found at:

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