Measuring the height of Earth from space

Chapter 3: Replicating geospatial data from space

Measuring the height of Earth from space

Replicating geospatial data from space

In order to provide the ATLAS science team with representative ICESat-2 ATLAS data in advance of the 2017 launch, Sigma Space designed and delivered the high-precision receiver and timing electronics and multiple opto-mechanical systems of the high-altitude, airborne Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental LiDAR (MABEL) instrument to NASA GSFC. Sigma Space, recently acquired by Hexagon, is a provider of next generation remote sensing technology to rapidly deliver 3D maps of the earth.

MABEL serves as a demonstrator for the ICESat-2 ATLAS instrument, and the instrument has flown in several campaigns over ice, mountains, vegetation and water in locations such as the continental United States, Alaska and Greenland. These flights allowed the ATLAS science team to obtain and analyse data representative of what the ATLAS instrument will produce while in orbit. The MABEL instrument uses similar hardware to that used in Sigma Space’s highly successful Single Photon LiDAR (SPL) instruments that produce 3D maps of Earth.

NASA GSFC selected Sigma Space to develop and design the Photon Counting Electronics (PCE) hardware for the ICESat-2 satellite’s ATLAS instrument. The PCE hardware resides in the Main Electronics Box (MEB) of the ATLAS instrument. Comprised of three identical circuit boards, each responsible for 20 channels of the 60 channel system, the PCE will enable ATLAS to perform highly accurate three-dimensional measurements of Earth’s surface and structures, using a low powered laser and single-photon sensitive detectors. Based on Sigma Space’s SPL solutions, the PCE’s novel timing electronics have been customised for the ATLAS instrument and for space flight using robust design techniques required for the space environment.

Sigma Space was involved in all aspects of the PCE development, from architectural definition, detailed chip and card-level design, performance characterisation and validation, testing, and integration. A small, focused team of Sigma Space engineers worked hand-in-hand with NASA flight software and algorithm development teams to ensure smooth hardware/software integration, debug, and support throughout the program. Sigma Space delivered breadboard-level, engineering model, and space-flight model PCE hardware to NASA GSFC.

“The ATLAS PCE development has been a great success. Sigma Space was a key member of the ICESat-2 ATLAS team and worked seamlessly with NASA GSFC,” said Ed Leventhal, Sigma Space director of Electrical Engineering. “We delivered very high performance hardware based on our SPL measurement technique. We are proud of Sigma's role in the ICESat-2 ATLAS program and look forward to a successful launch and mission.”

Explore next chapter: Moving into the next frontier of measurement

Story: Measuring the height of Earth from space
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Laser technology brings scientists closer to answers
Chapter 3: Replicating geospatial data from space
Chapter 4: Moving into the next frontier of measurement

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