NASA STTR 2006 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 06-2 T4.01-9833
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Earth Science Sensors and Instruments
PROPOSAL TITLE: Ultra Compact Cloud Physics Lidar for UAV Platforms

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN: (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/ZIP, Phone)
Sigma Research and Engineering Corp.
4801 Forbes Blvd.
Lanham, MD 20706-4303
(301) 552-6300

RESEARCH INSTITUTION: (RI Name, Mail Address, City/State/ZIP, Phone)
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
1000 Hilltop Circle
Baltimore, MD 21250-0002
(410) 455-3140

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER: (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/ZIP, Phone)
Christopher Field
4801 Forbes Blvd
Lanham,  MD 20706-6204
(301) 552-6300

Expected Technology Readiness Level (TRL) upon completion of contract:

We have designed a compact two-color, polarization-sensitive instrument to measure cloud characteristics from a high altitude UAV and can also be widely deployed as inexpensive ground-based ceilometers and aerosol finders. The instrument is modular, can operate with one or two wavelengths, and can measure depolarization or not depending on the need. The instrument is in two pressurized boxes, an optics box and an electronics box, each about half a cubic foot in size. If desired, the two boxes can be attached for a single box solution. Fiber optical technology is used to minimize critical optical alignments and permit field replacement of the laser and detectors. Micro-optic fiber components are used to separate the colors before detection. We propose to build, test, and calibrate the instrument in the Phase 2 effort.

Cloud Physics Lidar has demonstrated an ability to characterize clouds and atmospheric aerosols. However, the instrument is expensive to fly using manned flights and the laser is difficult to replace. The proposed instrument will take data similar to Cloud Physics Lidar, from a UAV, thus allowing extensive air coverage over environments generally considered unsafe for piloted operations (e.g. Antarctic regions) at a lower operating cost, which allows more coverage over regions of interest or over flights coordinated with ground based instruments. Sigma will draw from its vast experience in the commercial production of Micro Pulse Lidars (MPL) in streamlining a production process for the ultra compact cloud lidars described in this proposal. The MPL instruments are deployed in stations worldwide for autonomous aerosol/dust/cloud profiling in standalone and networked configurations. A similar network of UAV based instruments leveraging production and technologies from MPL can be envisioned to provide tens of units or more to NASA and its partner stations worldwide to provide cloud monitoring on a routine basis.

The design of the compact cloud lidar lends itself to ground based applications as well. Currently NOAA owns and/or operates approximately 900 ceilometers at various monitoring stations and airports. The ceilometers have been used for severe weather prediction and aviation assistance in and around airports. Recently, NOAA has started a phased replacement of ceilometers while recognizing its limitation to cloud base estimation. The ultra compact lidar proposed here provides a novel instrument when used as a compact lidar that provides aerosol/cloud profile information, but also particle size and cloud phase from the polarization sensitive measurement ability. The commercial potential for an instrument similar in size to the existing ceilometers but with advanced capability for agencies such as NOAA and FAA would be very significant, given the number of instruments used in their existing network. Sigma has already established a business relationship with NOAA, and is working with their team in cloud profile and cloud phase measurements in the DC area.