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Laser Instrument for Mapping World’s Forests Gets Ready to Launch

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GREENBELT, Md., May 9, 2018 — A laser instrument designed to map the world’s forests in high-resolution 3D is undergoing final integration and testing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) instrument is expected to launch aboard SpaceX’s 16th commercial resupply services mission, targeted for late 2018. GEDI is being led by the University of Maryland and it is being built at NASA Goddard.

A lidar instrument, GEDI has three lasers that will produce eight ground tracks. The laser pulses will reflect off clouds, trees, and the planet’s surface as the space station and GEDI orbit Earth. While the instrument will gather height information about everything in its path, it is specifically designed to measure forests. The amount and intensity of the light that bounces back to GEDI’s telescope will reveal details about the height and density of trees and vegetation, including the structure of leaves and branches within a forest’s canopy.

Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) instrument, University of Maryland and NASA Goddard.
The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) lidar is being assembled in a cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Courtesy of NASA.

GEDI will be the first spaceborne laser instrument to measure the structure of Earth’s tropical and temperate forests in high resolution and three dimensions. These measurements will help fill in critical gaps in scientists’ understanding of how much carbon is stored in the world’s forests, the potential for ecosystems to absorb rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, and the impact of forest changes on biodiversity.

The team is now preparing to put GEDI through a battery of prelaunch tests to ensure it is ready to withstand the rigors of launch and operating in space.

“Scientists have been planning for decades to get comprehensive information about the structure of forests from space to deepen our understanding of how this structure impacts carbon resources and biodiversity across large regions and even globally, as well as a host of other science issues," said professor Ralph Dubayah. “This is why seeing the instrument built and racing toward launch is so exciting.”

From its perch on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory, GEDI will be the first spaceborne laser instrument to measure the structure of Earth’s tropical and temperate forests in high resolution and three dimensions. Courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/LK Ward.
May 2018
An acronym of light detection and ranging, describing systems that use a light beam in place of conventional microwave beams for atmospheric monitoring, tracking and detection functions. Ladar, an acronym of laser detection and ranging, uses laser light for detection of speed, altitude, direction and range; it is often called laser radar.
remote sensing
Technique that utilizes electromagnetic energy to detect and quantify information about an object that is not in contact with the sensing apparatus.
AmericasSpace-X StationlasersimaginglidaraerospaceNASAecosystemsenvironmentgeomappingremote sensing

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