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In-flight characterization of the lunar orbiter laser altimeter instrument pointing and far-field pattern

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Abstract

The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has collected nearly seven billion measurements of surface height on the Moon with an absolute accuracy of 1m and a precision of 10cm. Converting time-of-flight laser altimeter measurements to topographic elevations requires accurate knowledge of the laser pointing with respect to the spacecraft body–fixed coordinate system. To that end, we have utilized altimetric crossovers from LOLA, as well as bidirectional observations of the LOLA laser and receiver boresight via an Earth-based laser tracking ground station. Based on a sample of 780,000 globally distributed crossovers from the circular-orbit phase of LRO’s mission (27 months), we derive corrections to the LOLA laser boresight. These corrections improve the cross-track and along-track agreement of the crossovers by 24% and 33%, respectively, yielding RMS residuals of 10m. Since early in the LRO mission, the bidirectional laser tracking experiments have confirmed a pointing anomaly when the LOLA instrument is facing toward deep space or the night side of the Moon and have allowed the reconstruction of the laser far-field pattern and receiver telescope pointing. By conducting such experiments shortly after launch and nearly eight years later, we have directly measured changes in the laser characteristics and obtained critical data to understand the laser behavior and refine the instrument pointing model. The methods and results presented here are also relevant to the design, fabrication, and operation of future planetary laser altimeters and their long-term behavior in the space environment.

© 2018 Optical Society of America

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