Development of onboard digital elevation and relief databases for the advanced topographic laser altimeter system



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The Ice, Cloud, and land Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) is planned to launch in 2016 carrying the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS). ATLAS will be the first space-based photon-counting laser altimeter to be put into operation, and is tasked with observing the Earth’s ice sheets, sea ice, and vegetation. The environment in which ATLAS will be operating is expected to introduce a significant amount of noise into the received signal; this necessitates that a set of onboard Receiver Algorithms be developed to reduce the data volume and data rate to acceptable levels while still transmitting the relevant ranging data. The algorithms make use of signal processing techniques, along with three databases, the Digital Elevation Model (DEM), the Digital Relief Map (DRM), and the Surface Reference Mask (SRM), to find the signal and determine the appropriate dynamic range of vertical data surrounding the surface for downlink. The focus of this study is the development of the DEM and DRM databases. A number of elevation data sets are examined for use as inputs for the databases. No global data sets of sufficient quality and resolution are available for the development of the project, so best-available regional elevation data sets were selected instead. Software was developed in MATLAB to produce the DEM and DRM data bases from the input data sets. A method for calculating relief from a gridded elevation data set along the flight path of a satellite was developed for the generation of relief maps used to create the DRM. Global DEM and DRM databases were produced by mosaicking individual DEM and DRM tiles from each input data set into global grids. A technique was developed to determine the accuracy of the DRM by using ICESat ground elevations to evaluate the accuracy of an input elevation data set. By comparing values of DRM accuracy to values of DRM relief, estimates of DRM accuracy as a function of relief magnitude were determined and used to define values of DRM padding in the receiver algorithm.