Monitoring technologies win technology transfer award


Micro Pulse Lidar (MPL) system provides autonomous monitoring of atmospheric variables such as cloud base height, cloud profile, and aerosol structure. It is said to be an eye-safe, reliable, small, sensitive, and efficient detection-device for use in commercial applications.

Rocky Gap, MD —NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s (GSFC) Micro Pulse Lidar (MPL) technology and its MPL Network (MPLNET) received the 2005 Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) Mid-Atlantic Regional Excellence in Technology Transfer Award earlier this month. [ Lidar is a measurement technique; its name is an acronym for LI ght D etection A nd R anging.]

The MPL device is said to revolutionize atmospheric-aerosol and cloud data-gathering by helping researchers better understand pollution patterns and climate change. It provides ground-based continuous monitoring of vertical distributions of dust, soot, sulfate, sea salt, and other aerosol particles in the Earth’s atmosphere. MPL Network organizes data gathered by MPL devices around the globe and makes the information available to other researchers online. FLC is a government-wide forum for technology transfer. Each year, the organization recognizes innovations that are transferred beyond the laboratories that created them to benefit the larger research community and U.S. industry.

Unlike earlier lidar-based research devices, the MPL instrument provides a safe, easy-to-use, and cost-effective means of monitoring the distribution of clouds and pollutants in remote areas. “The MPL device is the first lidar-based design to be eye-safe, small, simple, and reliable, allowing us to make long-term, unattended lidar monitoring of the atmosphere possible,” said Dr. James Spinhirne, GSFC’s MPL project leader.

Transferring MPL technology to the commercial sector led to initial improvements to the design, said Dr. Spinhirne. In 1994, it was licensed to Science and Engineering Services, Inc., which incorporated state-of-the-art optics and laser components, increasing the device’s reliability. In 2004, it was licensed to SigmaSpace Corp. To date, 47 MPL units have been sold worldwide.

MPLNET was formed in 2000 and is funded by NASA. Besides data collection and dissemination functions, the network also provides a means of standardizing MPL design, calibration techniques, and operating procedures to ensure high-quality data are obtained and is said to give scientists unprecedented access to atmospheric data not previously available.

—Control Engineering Daily News Desk
Jeanine Katzel, senior editor,

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