Ranging performance of satellite laser altimeters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Topographic mapping of the Earth, moon, and planets can be accomplished with high resolution and accuracy using satellite laser altimeters. These systems employ nanosecond laser pulses and microradian beam divergences to achieve sub- meter vertical range resolution from orbital altitudes of several hundred kilometers. In this paper we develop detailed expressions for the range and pulse width measurement accuracies and use the results to evaluate the ranging performances of several satellite laser altimeters currently under development by NASA for launch during the next decade. Our analysis includes the effects of the target surface characteristics, spacecraft pointing jitter, and waveform digitizer characteristics. The results show that ranging accuracy is critically dependent on the pointing accuracy and stability of the altimeter especially over high relief terrain where surface slopes are large. At typical orbital altitudes of several hundred kilometers, single-shot accuracies of a few centimeters can be achieved only when the pointing jitter is on the order of 10 μrad or less.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1061-1072
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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