Washington, May 16 : Scientists are developing technology that could one day help in building three dimensional 'super road maps' of planets and moons.
The technology is under development at Rochester Institute of Technology's (RIT's) Rochester Imaging Detector Laboratory (RIDL), in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratory.
These 3 D "super road maps" of other planets and moons would provide robots, astronauts and engineers details about atmospheric composition, biohazards, wind speed and temperature.
Information like this could help land future spacecraft and more effectively navigate roving cameras across a Martian or lunar terrain.
The new technology, being developed by RIT scientist Donald Figer and his team, involves the use of a new type of detector that uses LIDAR (LIght Detection and Ranging), a technique similar to radar, but which uses light instead of radio waves to measure distances.
The project will deliver a new generation of optical/ultraviolet imaging LIDAR detectors that will significantly extend NASA science capabilities for planetary applications by providing 3-D location information for planetary surfaces and a wider range of coverage than the single-pixel detectors currently combined with LIDAR.
"The imaging LIDAR detector could become a workhorse for a wide range of NASA missions," said Figer, professor in RIT's Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science and director of the RIDL. "It could support NASA's planetary missions like Europa Geophysical Orbiter or a Mars High-resolution Spatial Mapper," he added.
The device will consist of a 2-D continuous array of light sensing elements connected to high-speed circuits.
The imaging component of the new detector will capture swaths of entire scenes where the laser beam travels. It will be able to distinguish topographical details that differ in height by as little as one centimeter.
LIDAR works by measuring the time it takes for light to travel from a laser beam to an object and back into a light detector.
The new detector can be used to measure distance, speed and rotation. It will provide high-spatial resolution topography as well as measurements of planetary atmospheric properties-pressure, temperature, chemical composition and ground-layer properties.
The device can also be used to probe the environments of comets, asteroids and moons to determine composition, physical processes and chemical variability.
In addition to planetary mapping, imaging LIDAR detectors will have uses on Earth.
Other applications include remote sensing of the atmosphere for both climate studies and weather forecasting, topographical mapping, biohazard detection, autonomous vehicle navigation, battlefield friend/foe identification and missile tracking.