Building, fixing, and refueling space-based assets or rendezvousing with a comet or asteroid will require a robotic vehicle and a super-precise, high-resolution 3-D imaging lidar that will generate real-time images needed to guide the vehicle to a target traveling at thousands of miles per hour.
A team of technologists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, now is developing a next-generation 3-D scanning lidar—dubbed the Goddard Reconfiguable Solid-state Scanning Lidar (GRSSLi)—that could provide the imagery needed to execute these orbital dances. "We have made a tremendous amount of progress," said Nat Gill, GRSSLi principal investigator at Goddard. "We have a long way to go, but we hope to validate the GRSSLi system this fall."
The current system has achieved a technology-readiness level of five. In the parlance of NASA engineers, this means that once the team completes this iteration of GRSSLi, the team will be ready to build another system that would undergo vibration and thermal-vacuum testing.
GRSSLi is a next-generation scanning lidar based on technologies developed by the Army Research Laboratory, which later transferred the technology to Spectrolab, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary The Boeing Co. The company now markets the instrument as the SpectroScan 3D.
GRSSLi, however, will take 3-D imaging lidar to the next level—all from a small, low-cost, low-weight platform capable of centimeter-level resolution over a range of distances, from meters to kilometers, said GRSSLi Co-Principal Investigator Tony Yu, who received Goddard Internal Research and Development (IRAD) program funding to help advance GRSSLi and its close cousin, a non-scanning 3-D imaging lidar.