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A Beam of LITE: 25 Years of Earth-observing Lidar in Space

30 September 2019

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It wasn't even supposed to be a science mission. That wasn't the primary goal, anyway. It was a technology demonstration. Scientists and engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, wanted to prove that an Earth-observing lidar could work in space.

They succeeded beyond their expectations. Instead of flat, two-dimensional imagery, LITE revealed intricate multi-layer cloud structures resembling works of art. The instrument literally gave researchers a new way of looking at Earth's atmosphere from space and in doing so laid the groundwork for future lidar missions. The Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observation (CALIPSO), a joint satellite mission between NASA and the French space agency (CNES) that launched in 2006 and is still flying today, was a direct descendant of LITE. Also descended from LITE were the two Ice, Cloud and land Elevation satellites (ICESat and ICESat-2), Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI), and the Cloud-Aerosol Transport Systems (CATS).

Source: NASA

Image credit: NASA - LITE can be seen here on space shuttle Discovery during STS-64.

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