The Portable Airborne Laser System (PALS) is a combination of laser ranging, video imaging, positioning, and data-processing subsystems designed for measuring the heights of forest canopies along linear transects from tens to thousands of kilometers long. Unlike prior laser ranging systems designed to serve the same purpose, the PALS is not restricted to use aboard a single aircraft of a specific type: the PALS fits into two large suitcases that can be carried to any convenient location, and the PALS can be installed in almost any local aircraft for hire, thereby making it possible to sample remote forests at relatively low cost. The initial cost and the cost of repairing the PALS are also lower because the PALS hardware consists mostly of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) units that can easily be replaced in the field.

The COTS units include a laser ranging transceiver, a charge-coupled-device camera that images the laser-illuminated targets, a differential Global Positioning System (dGPS) receiver capable of operation within the Wide Area Augmentation System, a video titler, a video cassette recorder (VCR), and a laptop computer equipped with two serial ports. The VCR and computer are powered by batteries; the other units are powered at 12 VDC from the 28-VDC aircraft power system via a low-pass filter and a voltage converter.

The dGPS receiver feeds location and time data, at an update rate of 0.5 Hz, to the video titler and the computer. The laser ranging transceiver, operating at a sampling rate of 2 kHz, feeds its serial range and amplitude data stream to the computer. The analog video signal from the CCD camera is fed into the video titler wherein the signal is annotated with position and time information. The titler then forwards the annotated signal to the VCR for recording on 8-mm tapes. The dGPS and laser range and amplitude serial data streams are processed by software that displays the laser trace and the dGPS information as they are fed into the computer, subsamples the laser range and amplitude data, interleaves the subsampled data with the dGPS information, and records the resulting interleaved data stream.

This work was done by Ross Nelson of Goddard Space Flight Center. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Electronics/Computers category. GSC-14906-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the October, 2005 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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