Technology.am (May 25, 2009) — Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a light detection and ranging (LIDAR) system that can pinpoint multiple objects with nanometer precision over distances up to 100 kilometers.
NIST’s new LIDAR has a unique combination of capabilities, including precision, rapid updates from multiple reference points at the same time, and minimal measurement ambiguity. The system can update measurements to multiple targets simultaneously every 200 microseconds.
NIST’s LIDAR could enable multiple satellites to maintain tight spacing and pointing while flying in precision formations, acting as a single research instrument in space.
The new NIST LIDAR has a comfortably large ambiguity range of at least 1.5 meters—large enough to check the coarse distance with widely available technologies such as GPS.
Formation flying has been proposed as a means to enhance searches for extraterrestrial planets, enable imaging of black holes with multiple X-ray telescopes on different satellites, and support tests of general relativity through measurements of satellite spacing in a gravitational field.
The new LIDAR could enable continuous comparisons and feedback of distances to multiple reference points on multiple satellites. There also may be applications in automated manufacturing, where many parts need to fit together with tight tolerances, according to Nate Newbury, the principal investigator.
The LIDAR relies on a pair of optical frequency combs, tools for precisely measuring different colors (or frequencies) of light.