A Laser Altimeter for a Planetary Flyby Mission

Thursday, 18 December 2014
David E Smith1, Maria T Zuber1, Xiaoli Sun2, John Cavanaugh2, Gregory A Neumann3, Erwan Mazarico1 and Antonio Genova1, (1)Massachusetts Inst Tech, Cambridge, MA, United States, (2)NASA GSFC, Greenbelt, MD, United States, (3)NASA, Baltimore, MD, United States
Several planetary missions are contemplated as flybys of planets, asteroids, and natural satellites. In many cases the option to orbit the body is impractical and observations during one or many flybys represent the only reasonable option. A laser altimeter provides measurements of topography and shape, surface roughness, and normal reflectivity at the laser wavelength and has been shown to be very effective at Mars, Mercury and the Moon when in orbit about the body and also when in proximity of an asteroid. But flyby missions are less able to provide the coverage and uniformity of the data being acquired by the instruments on the s/c because of the variation in range of the spacecraft from the body during a flyby. To address this problem, we have modified the design of our single beam Mercury Laser Altimeter (MLA), currently collecting observations on the MESSENGER mission, to provide an operating range of several thousand kilometers by increasing the output from the laser, providing a variable pulse-rate while maintaining constant electrical power, that can provide quasi-contiguous altimeter pixels during the flyby, and by storing the complete output from the detector. This approach will provide accurate topographic and shape data and enable improved orbit determination of the spacecraft by the use of orbital crossovers with minimal interpolation errors between measurements. The mass, power and data rate of the instrument is compatible with typical constraints in planetary missions.