Fibertek, Inc. a critical components of a proposed Planetary Landing LIDAR System (PLLS). Compared to the PLLS used on OSIRIS-Rex, our architecture achieves higher speed and higher resolution while significantly reducing size, weight, and power (SWAP). This is achieved by using a much more sensitive sensor: an array of Silicon Geiger-mode avalanche photo diodes (Gm-APDs) which can count single photon returns. This permits lower power high rep-rate lasers and smaller apertures for savings in SWAP as well as increased acquisition rates for higher resolution and faster mapping. In addition there are the usual benefits of Silicon including warm operation, ease of manufacturing, and intrinsically better radiation tolerance.
Geiger-mode LIDAR requires oversampling and statistical analysis. The required processing capability and latency has proven a challenge. Fibertek has developed a novel architecture for Gm-LIDAR which solves this problem. We have demonstrated the ability to process Geiger mode data faster than the sensor can acquire it. In this effort we will develop space-flight traceable low-swap FPGA-based data acquisition hardware. We will then port our solution to FPGA and demonstrate real time processing using simulated data. Demonstrating the ability to map a 2000x2000 pixel scene in less than 2 seconds, our data acquisition hardware will prove the feasibility of this approach for a low SWAP high-speed, high-resolution PLLS.
To enable science in regions with interesting geology, planetary landers will need to be capable of landing amid hazardous terrain. Hazards large enough to disrupt landing are nevertheless too small to be identified from orbit. Future landing missions will require advanced hazard avoidance systems. A PLLS is a practical way to generate a high-resolution elevation maps during the landing sequence. A PLLS should also be flexible enough to serve other functions including LIDAR for docking and altimetry or low resolution LIDAR from orbit.
The DoD is actively pursuing real-time 3D lidar sensor technologies for intelligence, surveillance, and recognizance applications on airborne and space-borne platforms. The 3D lidar sensor and processing technology is directly applicable to the DoD applications. Planned BAAs include DARPA’s 3DNOW and the USAF ASI program. Both programs will benefit from technology developed on this SBIR.