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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

ITT Exelis instrument tracks global carbon dioxide

May 8th, 2013 by Susan Smith

Eric Webster, vice president of Exelis Weather Systems, talked recently about the company’s efforts along with NASA Langley Research Center to evaluate an Exelis instrument to determine its effectiveness for measuring CO2 from space.

The business areas that Exelis is focused on are two components of environmental intelligence: weather systems and climate systems.

“We build the vast majority of the U.S. and several international space, weather and sensor instruments,” said Webster. “For more than 50 years we’ve been building instruments for weather forecasting for NOAA and NASA, and for weather forecasting using both imagers that take pictures as well as other instruments that take atmospheric data for weather modeling. We’ve been doing that continuously with over 60 instruments built on all the major weather programs for NOAA and NASA going into the future, and recently we got a study contract with the Air Force.”

“On the climate side, we have been working with NASA Langley for more than seven year on laser technology to measure CO2 and other greenhouse gases. This was started as a project where we built a design unit that has been flying on aircraft for several years, with the goal of being able to measure CO2 from space, using lasers that have a better capability than the current design of CO2 instruments. Right now there is only one instrument in space that’s really dedicated to measuring CO2 and methane developed by the Japanese. This technology uses different technology such as sunlight and other energy where a laser has much more capability, so that’s the next generation of where scientists and the U.S. government want to go, and we’re on the forefront of that.”

The Exelis instrument Multifunctional Fiber Laser LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is based on commercially viable fiber communications technology, which is lower cost and risk than other approaches, according to press materials.

The team recently completed a flight campaign that measured carbon dioxide over various surfaces and conditions as a step toward taking active global measurements from space.

A NASA DC-8 aircraft was used to take carbon dioxide measurements from different environments using the Exelis instrument. These were challenging environments such as high altitudes over fresh and aged snow surfaces, ocean surfaces in high winds, tall coastal and forest conditions, and in the thin cirrus clouds.

LIDAR is important for measuring CO2 from space because current passive instruments can’t take measurements at night, or at high latitudes where major cities might be located, or through clouds.

With climate, the scientific community users models that predict what are going to happen in the future. They need more highly sophisticated and accurate data to make those models work better. “Our focus is on science community and seeing what they think those requirements are to make those models better. Then once that’s accomplished, the folks in other areas will be able to make better decisions,” said Webster.

“We have invested more of our own money to create a system that would measure CO2 and other gases on the ground using a similar laser capability as is used in space. Those measurements in our discussions would be useful in oil and gas production, as well as for monitoring a city or a larger area or a volcano. Community leaders could use this. There aren’t federal requirements for these things so the market is still developing. We’re trying to work with NIST and the Department of Energy (DOE) to do demo projects as well as look at some of oil and gas industry areas that want higher precision measurements. So we’re trying use our technology to do space air as well as ground sensing. And we believe that will really help architects and others with more accurate data for better modeling and decisions to validate what’s happening in the environment.”

Exelis is at the end of the research phase with their instrument. They want people on the ground using the data as they work toward an eventual space mission.

With NASA Langley, the Exelis team is working toward  a UAV mission, unmanned vehicles collecting information that would help modeling. Being on the ground and in air and space (eventually) there are different coverages. “From space you can get global coverage,” said Webster. “How do you weave ground, air and space capabilities that will help scientists and provide the data we need?”

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Categories: climate change, laser radar, lidar

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