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Rapid and precise absolute distance measurements at long range



Ian R. Coddington, William C. Swann, Ljerka Nenadovic, Nathan R. Newbury


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.
Nature Photonics


frequency comb, formation-flying, ranging


Coddington, I. , Swann, W. , Nenadovic, L. and Newbury, N. (2009), Rapid and precise absolute distance measurements at long range, Nature Photonics, [online], (Accessed June 18, 2024)


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Created June 1, 2009, Updated February 19, 2017