Title: The Slope Imaging Multi-polarization Photon-counting Lidar: an Advanced Technology Airborne Laser Altimeter
Primary Author: Harding, David
Organization: NASA GSFC
Co-Author(s): Philip Dabney, David Harding, James Abshire, Kurt Rush, Antonios Seas, Xiaoli Sun, Christopher Shuman, Susan Valett, and Tony Yu - NASA GSFC
Tim Huss, Gabriel Jodor, Roman Machan, Joe Marzouk and Yunhui Zheng - Sigma Space Corporation,
Aleksey Vasilyev - Science Systems and Applications, Inc

The Slope Imaging Multi-polarization Photon-counting Lidar (SIMPL) is an airborne laser altimeter developed through the NASA Earth Science Technology Office Instrument Incubator Program with a focus on cryopshere remote sensing. The SIMPL instrument incorporates a variety of advanced technologies in order to demonstrate measurement approaches of potential benefit for improved airborne laser swath mapping and spaceflight laser altimeter missions. SIMPL incorporates beam splitting, single-photon ranging and polarimetry technologies at green and near-infrared wavelengths in order to achieve simultaneous sampling of surface elevation, slope, roughness and scattering properties, the latter used to differentiate surface types. The transmitter is a 1 nsec pulse width, 11 kHz, 1064 nm microchip laser, frequency doubled to 532 nm and split into four plane-polarized beams using birefringent calcite crystal in order to maintain co-alignment of the two colors. The 16 channel receiver splits the received energy for each beam into the two colors and each color is split into energy parallel and perpendicular to the transmit polarization plane thereby proving a measure of backscatter depolarization. The depolarization ratio is sensitive to the proportions of specular reflection and surface and volume scattering, and is a function of wavelength. The ratio can differentiate, for example, liquid water, young translucent ice, older granular ice and snow. The solar background count rate is controlled by spatial filtering using a pinhole array and by spectral filtering using temperature-controlled narrow bandwidth filters. The receiver is fiber coupled to 16 Single Photon Counting Modules (SPCMs). To avoid range biases due to the long dead time of these detectors the probability of detection per laser fire on each channel is controlled to be below 30%, using mechanical irises and flight altitude. Event timers with 0.1 nsec resolution in combination the narrow transmit pulse yields single photon ranging precision of 8 cm. The high speed, high throughput data system is capable of recording 22 million time-tagged photon detection events per second. At typical aircraft flight speeds, each of the 16 channels acquires a single photon range every 5 to 15 cm along the four profiles providing a highly sampled measure of surface roughness. The nominal flight altitude is 5 km yielding 10 m spacing between the four beam profiles, providing a measure of surface slope at 10 m length scales. SIMPLís measurement capabilities provide information about surface elevation, roughness, slope and type, all of value in characterizing ice sheet surfaces and sea ice, including their melt state. SIMPLSís capabilities will be illustrated using data acquired over Lake Erie ice cover in February, 2009, an analog for sea ice. Lessons learned from SIMPLís development and science results are applicable to the ICESat-2 spaceflight mission now in formulation. A multi-beam, micropulse, single photon ranging instrument is the implementation currently planned for ICESat-2.