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Center Independent Research & Development: GSFC IRAD

Blue Laser for Ice and Melt Pond Lidar Applications

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Lidar has been utilized for decades to study the cryosphere and its study is a core science product of several national organizations, including NASA, NOAA, and many commercial and academic institutions.  The state-of-the-art airborne lidar systems performing this research often operate at a wavelength of 532nm, but research has shown that 420-460 nm light can penetrate relatively clear water and ice much deeper before experiencing significant absorption loss.  We propose to design and build a new blue laser system to make measurements on ice and melt ponds not previously possible, and we will confirm how well the light penetrates these targets using the GSFC Code 615 Snow and Ice Research Facility.

This project proposes to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Design and assemble a 420-460 nm laser system that is deployable for science and commercial applications.
  2. Test the penetration properties of the 420 -460 nm laser light in the Code 615 Snow and Ice Research Facility to quantify how much better it performs compared to 532 nm.

If these goals are successfully achieved, the blue laser will be in excellent position to integrate with in-house airborne systems within one year.  Once airborne demonstrations are successful, the blue laser can support any IceBridge operation and also be scaled to support any space-based ice lidar missions. 

The work plan to develop the proof-of-concept pulsed blue laser transmitter and test 440 nm penetration properties is detailed below.  All facilities and equipment required to carry out this plan already exist here at GSFC in Code 554 and Code 615.

October –January 2014:  Finalize design of laser with a focus on reliability, ease of pumping, and nonlinear conversion efficiency, while eyeing future systems-level configuration considerations.  Use software to select nonlinear crystal(s) and optimize dimensions.  Ordering and procurement of pump diodes, gain media, optical components, nonlinear conversion crystals, and various electronics.  Start basic design of final mechanical packaging.

 January-February 2015:  Assemble and characterize performance of laser at fundamental wavelength.  Test peak power, pulse width, output spectrum, and energy up to 10 kHz repetition rate.

 March-May 2015:  Characterize performance of nonlinear frequency conversions stage(s) to achieve target blue wavelengths.  Optimize conversion vs. temperature & alignment.  Characterize overall performance of laser transmitter.  Start repackaging of breadboard setup to aircraft-compatible packaging.

June-August 2015:  Complete aircraft-compatible packaging of the blue wavelength laser and move it to the Snow and Ice Research Facility.  Use facility resources to test the transmit absorption/reflectance characteristics of laser, mirroring ICESat-2 experiments.  A direct comparison can then be made between 532 nm and 450 nm light such that we can understand which ice applications ~ 450 nm wavelength would offer superior performance.

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