National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Wallops Flight Facility

ATM History

NASA Wallops Airborne Lidar History

Four Decades of Airborne Laser Remote Sensing

The dedicated ATM lidar systems shared a common legacy with an earlier NASA airborne research lidar system known as the Airborne Oceanographic Lidar (AOL). The AOL system was designed by NASA and AVCO Everrett Research Laboratory in 1974, and delivered to NASA in 1977. The AOL had two primary modes of operation; a fluorosensing mode that measured the laser induced spectral return (400 to 700 nm in 40 discrete 10 nm channels) used for oceanographic measurements, and a separate topographic mapping/bathymetry mode.

During the later 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, NASA continued to develop and advance both modes of the AOL system, participating in many cooperative oceanographic research programs (SEEP, JGOFS, IRONEX) worldwide, and also developing the topography and bathymetry modes. In 1985, AOL topo mode was combined with data from the newly launched GPS resulting in improved topographic mapping data.

In 1993, the AOL instrument (topo mode, with a mainframe based data system) was used to begin topographic ice surface measurements in Greenland. Following the successful first year of the new NASA Arctic Ice Mapping (AIM) program, in 1994 the ATM team developed a separate scanning lidar (AOLjr “AOL Junior” MSDOS based data system), that collected scanning lidar data in conjunction with the original AOL system collecting profiling data. In 1995, the evolution continued with development of a smaller scanning lidar system designated the Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM), permitting ATM operation using Twin Otter aircraft, as well as the NASA P3 aircraft.

The NASA Wallops Remote Sensing program has continued to develop and advance the ATM lidar systems, evolving into use of two ATM lidars when possible on larger aircraft.

Airborne Oceanographic Lidar (AOL)

  • 1974-Original AOL lidar system designed the under the NASA Advanced Applications Flight Experiment (AAFE) program by H. H. Kim
  • 1975 to 1977 AVCO Everett built original AOL system
  • 1977 to 1980 NASA evaluation flights on C54 and P3A aircrafts demonstrating bathymetry, topographic and oceanographic capabilities.
  • 1980 AOL measured ocean chlorophyll, water Raman and other pigments over Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean
  • 1981 Nantucket Shoals Experiment on NASA 428 P3
  • 1982 Gulf Stream Warm Core Ring missions
  • 1986 AOL Active lidar and passive upwelling Radiance measurements for satellite ocean color algorithm validation
  • 1987 FLEX missions
  • 1988 Shelf Edge Exchange Program (SEEP) missions
  • 1988 AOL Subsurface Scattering Layer measurements
  • 1987 BIOWATT missions
  • 1988 Shelf Edge Exchange Program (SEEP) missions
  • 1989 Atlantic Joint Global Flux Studies (JGOFS)
  • 1992 Gulf of Mexico TAMBAX missions
  • 1992 Pacific Joint Global Flux Studies (JGOFS)
  • 1995 Arabian Sea JGOFS missions (JGOFS)
  • 1998 Iron Enrichment Experiment (IRONEX)
  • 2000 AOL 3 system developed for Twin Otter aircraft
  • 2000 AOL3 Pump and Probe methodology demonstrated
  • 2002 ESTHAB missions with NOAA
  • 2003 Atlantic Bight missions
  • 2005 to 2008 airborne oceanographic missions gradually defunded

Airborne Topographic Mapper (ATM)

  • 1977 to 1980 Common equipment legacy with AOL including demonstration of forestry mapping applications
  • 1980 to 1990 ATM demonstrates topographic mapping using ground based balloon navigation and accelerometer motion removal over forests and lakebeds
  • 1986 First use of GPS with ATM lidar
  • 1990 GPS navigation added to ATM lidar measurements
  • 1992 Annual Arctic Ice Mapping (AIM) mapping program begun using AOL system to map Greenland Icecap
  • 1994 AOLjr lidar system developed
  • 1995 ATM-1 lidar system developed
  • 1996-2003 ATM mapped 80% of US coastline/ El Nino surveys
  • 1999 ATM-2 lidar system developed
  • 1999 US east and west coast beach mapping missions with USGS
  • 2001 ATM-3 lidar system developed
  • 2001-2002 ATM maps Antarctic Dry Valleys from McMurdo Antarctica on Twin Otter aircraft
  • 2001 IceSat ground truth in Mojave
  • 2002 Antarctic Ice Mapping on Chilean P3 aircraft
  • 2004 Antarctic Ice Mapping on Chilean P3 aircraft
  • 2004 Pacific wave mapping missions (GOT)
  • 2005 ATM-4 system developed
  • 2008 Antarctic Ice Mapping on Chilean P3 aircraft
  • 2009 Arctic Ice Mapping incorporated into NASA Operation IceBridge – annual Arctic and Antarctic deployments
  • 2009 to present- Ongoing NASA IceBridge missions

Circa 1977-Original AOL design and NASA C54 aircraft used for first missions

Circa 1977-Original AOL design and NASA C54 aircraft used for first missions

Inside the C54 showing the first AOL system