The ability to determine absolute distance to an object is one of the most basic measurements of remote sensing. High precision ranging has important applications in both large-scale manufacturing and in future tight formation-flying satellite missions, where rapid and precise measurements of absolute distance are critical for maintaining the relative pointing and position of the individual satellites. Using two coherent broadband fibre-laser frequency comb sources, we demonstrate a coherent laser ranging system that combines the advantages of time-of-flight and interferometric approaches to provide absolute distance measurements, simultaneously from multiple reflectors, and at low power. The pulse time-of-flight yields a precision of 3 mm with an ambiguity range of 1.5m in 200ms. Through the optical carrier phase, the precision is improved to better than 5 nm at 60 ms, and through the radio-frequency phase the ambiguity range is extended to 30 km, potentially providing 2 parts in 1013 ranging at long distances.
frequency comb, formation-flying, ranging