Space-Based LIDAR

Our commerce, economy, safety and security all depend on how accurately we can predict the weather.

For several decades, Ball Aerospace has been on the cutting edge of developing space-based LIDAR technology for new science, tactical and commercial applications – with a proven track record of delivering LIDAR that goes beyond expectations in terms of accuracy, lifespan, and scientific impact.

Ball's deep heritage in wind LIDAR technology development offers scientists and weather forecasters a simpler, more cost-effective path to global wind measurements – resulting in more accurate weather forecasting.

Filling the Greatest Unmet Need: 3D Winds

Ball continues this heritage by advancing the Optical Autocovariance Wind LIDAR (OAWL) technology, which is expected to produce wind profile measurements over more than 80 percent of Earth’s surface, and providing twice as many measurements as current systems allow while meeting a critical observational need. This will give forecasters access to high quality 3D measurements of horizontal winds for the very first time, increasing our understanding of weather, water and energy cycles, and climate processes and variability.

Ball’s OAWL leverages heritage technologies from the CALIPSO mission, and has flown on NASA-sponsored test flights to push the system closer to a space-based mission. Together with grant funding from NASA, Ball has designed, built and validated multiple versions of the OAWL system, including the ATHENA-OAWL Airborne Demonstrator, the Green-OAWL (GrOAWL) which recently flew on the NASA WB-57 jet.



International Space Station orbit

ATHENA-OAWL (Atmospheric Transport, Hurricanes, and Extratropical Numerical weAther prediction using the Optical Autocovariance Wind Lidar) will provide more than 10 times more wind profile measurements across the oceans than the current measurement systems extending the useful forecast range by at least four hours.

Why 3D winds?

3D winds are the horizontal vector component of the 3D wind field.  3D winds are one of greatest observation gaps in the operational weather community. 

3D wind measurements would benefit:
  • extreme weather forecasting
  • civil aviation
  • military operations
  • air quality forecasting
  • commerce

Deep Heritage in Space-based 3D Wind Measurement

The first Optical Autocovariance type receiver was built at Ball starting in 2004 under Internal Research and Development (IRAD) funding. In 2008, under an Instrument Incubator Program grant from the NASA Earth Science Technology Office, Ball built the system into a full prototype of the Optical Autocovariance Wind Lidar (OAWL). Since then, Ball has partnered with NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office to further develop the mission concept and perform system validation.


ATHENA-OAWL Airborne Demonstrator

Ball has designed, built and validated multiple versions of the OAWL system. The most recent is a 532 nm Green-OAWL (GrOAWL). GrOAWL underwent airborne testing aboard the NASA WB-57 aircraft in summer 2016. Airborne testing serves to validate this future space-based system for ATHENA-OAWL.


GrOAWL wind speed and direction profiles are derived using two-look line of sight OAWL Doppler measurements acquired over the Gulf of Mexico on 17 June 2016.  The wind barb colors indicate the speed, and the barbs are pointing into the direction of the wind (i.e. winds around 4 km are mostly easterly, while winds above 6.5 km are more Northerly).  The six slanted wind barb profiles shown in bold indicate speed and direction as measured by radiosondes dropped from the aircraft to validate the lidar measurement.

Image courtesy of Sunil Baidar, University of Colorado

Image courtesy of Sunil Baidar, University of Colorado: Graphical representaion of GRoawl data


Ground and Airborne based validation

Ball's HAWC-OAWL (High spectral resolution lidar for Aerosols, Winds and Clouds) enables simultaneous Earth science measurements of winds and aerosols required for weather and air-quality forecasting. This instrument will advance the study of impacts of dust and aerosol transport on a global energy and water cycles, air quality and climate.