How do instruments end up on satellites orbiting the Earth?
For many of them, long before they are ever launched into space, they are tested from NASA airplanes. One of the objectives of the NASA Airborne Science Program is to test new instruments in space-like environments. Testing future satellite instruments from airplanes is the next best thing to actually testing them in space.
Heaps’ instrument, a broadband Lidar, uses an infrared laser beam aimed at the surface of the Earth. As the laser passes through the atmosphere and bounces off of the ground, carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere absorb some of the light from the laser. Measuring the amount of absorption that occurs as the instrument passes over different locations on the Earth will allow the team to build global carbon dioxide maps.