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

Christopher John Lowe, Ciara Norah McGrath, Steven Hancock, Ian Davenport, Stephen Todd, Johannes Hansen, Iain Woodhouse, Callum Norrie, Malcolm Macdonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)809-816
JournalActa astronautica
Early online date22 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2024

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Deployable optics
  • Global coverage
  • Lidar
  • Mission design
  • Satellite constellation


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