A six-month engineering analysis was performed by The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc., at the request of the U. S. Geological Survey, to investigate the suitability of an airborne instrument package based on inertial techniques to serve as the datum for a laser altimeter in a system for aerial profiling of terrain to determine selected features of stream-valley geometry to an accuracy of ± 0.5 ft. in the vertical coordinate and ± 10 ft. in the horizontal coordinates. Feasible system configuration features a high performance inertial platform incorporating an integral laser tracker, pointing and ranging on retroreflectors on the ground, in order to provide the frequent updates needed to meet the accuracy requirements. In all environments except those of severe gravity gradients the nominal two- by twenty-mile survey area can be covered using three ground-surveyed retroreflectors, interspersed with several unlocated retroreflectors that are surveyed in by the airborne system along a longitudinal path within the river valley when the aircraft arrives over the site. Subsequent transverse profiling runs (traverses that may be spaced as close as one-quarter mile apart) are flown using, in turn, all retroreflectors as updating position references. Pointing and range information from the tracker are optimally combined with the on-board inertial measurements and available gravity data to provide position information and serve as the height datum for a terrain-clearance measuring laser altimeter. Data-logging means and operator display, as well as steering commands to the aircraft autopilot, are provided. The system configuration is capable of operating in single- or twin-engine aircraft including helecopters. It is recommended that work proceed into the design phase.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Aerial profiling of terrain to define stream-valley geometry: study report