Spacecraft and optics design considerations for a spaceborne lidar mission with spatially continuous global coverage

Lowe, Christopher John ORCID logo ORCID: , McGrath, Ciara Norah ORCID logo ORCID: , Hancock, Steven ORCID logo ORCID: , Davenport, Ian ORCID logo ORCID: , Todd, Stephen, Hansen, Johannes ORCID logo ORCID: , Woodhouse, Iain, Norrie, Callum ORCID logo ORCID: and Macdonald, Malcolm ORCID logo ORCID: (2024) Spacecraft and optics design considerations for a spaceborne lidar mission with spatially continuous global coverage. Acta Astronautica, 214 . pp. 809-816.

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• Global annual lidar coverage from space is technologically and financially feasible.
• Deployable optics significantly increase the value potential of a space lidar mission.
• Semiconductor (Diode) lasers are more promising than traditional solid-state lasers.
• Fewer, larger platforms generally perform better than many, smaller platforms.
• Nano-satellite platforms offer limited value due to their constrained aperture area.

The regular acquisition and delivery of high-resolution, accurate elevation data has historically been provided by airborne lidar (light detection and ranging) solutions, which are costly and highly localised. Providing similar data sets globally has notable scientific and commercial applications, but comes with challenges around scale. In this work, an investigation into such a service, from low Earth orbit satellites, is presented. The suitability of different space mission architectures is analysed based on platform size and optics mirror design, with the aim of providing true global, high-resolution (5-30 m sample resolution) lidar data, annually. The technical challenges, cost implications and feasible solution sets are presented, suggesting that a small number of large platforms offers a cost-effective solution, with the optimal design (of those evaluated) being that of a micro-satellite (∼150kg class) constellation with deployed optics capability. Solutions offering relatively low spatial resolution (30 m) are lower cost, with the cost rising as a square law with increasing resolution. As platform size continues to decrease, the number of satellites required to maintain global coverage scales exponentially, demanding prohibitively large constellations to ensure global coverage with smaller satellites.

Item Type: Article
Journal / Publication Title: Acta Astronautica
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 1879-2030
Departments: Institute of Science and Environment > STEM
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (
Depositing User: Insight Administrator
SWORD Depositor: Insight Administrator
Date Deposited: 28 Nov 2023 15:44
Last Modified: 13 Jan 2024 16:00


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