To meet critical science needs for the upcoming decade in Earth Observation, new technologies are required that reduce lidar size, weight, power, and cost while retaining efficiency, reliability, lifetime, and high performance. This is a challenging problem as state-of-the-art space based lidar systems operate at the edge of physical limits. We propose to develop the Earth Compact lidar for Height and altitude Observations (GRAAL). GRAALis an ultra-compact time-of-flight ranging lidar for Earth observation from Low Earth Orbit (LEO), designed to address key observational priorities including ice sheet thickness, forest canopy thickness, and smoke and cloud cover. GRAAL delivers similar science performance to ICESat-2’s ATLAS lidar instrument using. a radically new optoelectronics concept with two critical advances: 1) a greater than 10x reduction in size, weight, power, and cost by using a novel optical architecture; 2) GRAAL's optical path inherently provides a dual-channel capability for multi-sensor configurations such as imaging + lidar or hyperspectral sensing + lidar. With these two advances, GRAAL will be a key enabling technology for the next decade of compact lidar systems tasked with providing high quality data while vastly reducing instrument cost, size, and complexity. We have designed GRAAL as a “stock” lidar system replacing expensive, long-lead custom designs such as ATLAS, which will enable new mission architectures that require cost-effective global coverage and improved responsiveness to dynamic events, for example in constellations of SmallSat-scale satellites.
GRAAL has applications in LEO Earth observation for ice sheet and forest canopy thickness, and cloud cover. GRAAL’s novel steering capability has applications in entry, descent, and landing to survey a landing site prior to touchdown of a lander, and in hazard avoidance and docking. GRAAL’s size is ideal for balloon or airborne application. The proximity of GRAAL to the surface could allow for Raman or differential lidar, expanding close-range capabilities to include chemical analysis.
GRAAL has a clear application in a balloon based configuration for monitoring of greenhouse gas emission in oil & gas settings. Here, GRAAL is a key technology to allow companies to respond to new regulations for monitoring emissions at all stages of production.