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

Lowe, Christopher John and McGrath, Ciara Norah and Hancock, Steven and Davenport, Ian and Todd, Stephen and Hansen, Johannes and Woodhouse, Iain and Norrie, Callum and Macdonald, Malcolm (2024) Spacecraft and optics design considerations for a spaceborne lidar mission with spatially continuous global coverage. Acta Astronautica, 214. pp. 809-816. ISSN 0094-5765 (

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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 (5-30m 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 (30m) 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.