Satellite-based measurement technology

© Fraunhofer ILT, Aachen, Germany / Ralf Baumgarten.
Fraunhofer Institut für Lasertechnik zusammenarbeit mit Leibniz-Institut für Atmosphärenphysik, Kühlungsborn (IPA)

Satellite-based measurement technology is used to record weather data and environmental factors, control and measure various parameters and phenomena. For this purpose, Fraunhofer ILT has developed its own technology platform for satellite-based laser systems. This compact laser system is insensitive to strong vibrations and temperature changes. It enables researchers to collect and analyze data in real time or over longer periods of time in order to understand complex phenomena and develop solutions for various problems.

MERLIN maps methane in the atmosphere

The small satellite MERLIN (Methane Remote Sensing LiDAR Mission) will monitor the greenhouse gas methane in the Earth's atmosphere for three years. The researchers hope that this mission will give them a better understanding of how and where methane enters the atmosphere and where it is broken down.

At the heart of the satellite is a light radar (LiDAR) that sends light pulses into the atmosphere and determines the methane concentration from the light scattered back from the ground. In contrast to previous methods, which required sunlight, the MERLIN LiDAR can also measure methane concentrations on the night side of the earth and in small gaps in the clouds.


Development of space-qualified lasers

The development of laser technologies rugged enough for use in space poses an enormous challenge, which the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is actively tackling with its FULAS (Future Laser System) project. Lasers suitable for use in space must be able to withstand extreme conditions and meet the highest standards of precision and reliability – for example, they must be able to withstand shocks and vibrations of up to 25 grms as well as alternating thermal loads ranging from -30 °C to +50 °C. In addition, organic materials such as adhesives should be avoided as far as possible so as not to contaminate the ambient air and, thus, the high-purity mirror surfaces. Thanks to the FULAS platform, these requirements can be met and lasers successfully qualified for use in space.

Lasers and laser technology are making a significant contribution to improving the performance and versatility of satellite-based measurement technology by enabling precise measurements, transmitting data at high speed and providing detailed information about the Earth's surface and atmosphere.

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