A metrology system that contains no moving parts simultaneously measures the bearings and ranges of multiple reflective targets in its vicinity, enabling determination of the three-dimensional (3D) positions of the targets with submillimeter accuracy. The system combines a direction-measuring metrology camera and an interferometric range-finding subsystem. Because the system is based partly on a prior instrument denoted the Modulation Sideband Technology for Absolute Ranging (MSTAR) sensor and because of its 3D capability, the system is denoted the MSTAR3D. Developed for use in measuring the shape (for the purpose of compensating for distortion) of large structures like radar antennas, it can also be used to measure positions of multiple targets in the course of conventional terrestrial surveying.

The MSTAR3D measures the bearings of targets in the manner of a star tracker and the ranges of targets by use of heterodyne interferometry.

A diagram of the system is shown in the figure. One of the targets is a reference target having a known, constant distance with respect to the system. The system comprises a laser for generating local and target beams at a carrier frequency; a frequency shifting unit to introduce a frequency shift offset between the target and local beams; a pair of high-speed modulators that apply modulation to the carrier frequency in the local and target beams to produce a series of modulation sidebands, the high-speed modulators having modulation frequencies of FL and FM; a target beam launcher that illuminates the targets with the target beam; optics and a multi-pixel photodetector; a local beam launcher that launches the local beam towards the multi-pixel photodetector; a mirror for projecting to the optics a portion of the target beam reflected from the targets, the optics being configured to focus the portion of the target beam at the multi-pixel photodetector; and a signal-processing unit connected to the photodetector.

The portion of the target beam reflected from the targets produces spots on the multi-pixel photodetector corresponding to the targets, respectively, and the signal-processing unit centroids the spots to determine bearings of the targets, respectively. As the spots oscillate in intensity because they are mixed with the local laser beam that is flood illuminating the focal plane, the phase of oscillation of each spot is measured, the phase of sidebands in the oscillation of each spot being proportional to a distance to the corresponding target relative to the reference target A.

This work was done by Serge Dubovitsky, Carl Christian Liebe, Robert Peters, and Oliver Lay of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-42187


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This article first appeared in the December, 2007 issue of Imaging Technology Magazine.

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