NASA has been launching lasers from the International Space Station for years. There is a good reason behind

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We often think of space exploration as something outside of our lives, but many of the experiments we launch into space on rockets are intended to improve our quality of life. GEDI is one of them, with the aim of monitoring our forests and measuring deforestation.

The GEDI project (pronounced like jedi in reference to the famous science fiction saga) uses the International Space Station (ISS) as a base of operations. A small device on the outside measures various parameters of the Earth’s forest cover.

The idea behind LIDAR, and therefore of this instrument, is similar to that of radar, except that it uses lasers, that is, light beams, to make the measurements. The on-board device therefore has equipment to emit these light beams and a small telescope to receive them. On board the ISS, GEDI can take pictures of the entire surface of the Earth about every four or five days. Through these devices it is possible to measure variables such as tree height, vertical structure or elevation.

According to Laura Duncanson explains, a researcher at the University of Maryland and a collaborator on the project, “we used the reflected energy to map forests in 3D, including their height, canopy density, and carbon content. This is exciting technology, because for decades we’ve been able to see deforestation from space, but now with GEDI, we can link carbon emissions and forest loss [para mayor precisión].”

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A two-year mission.
The system was brought to the ISS in December 2018 and has been operating ever since. The useful life of this mission would have been from spring 2019 to 2021, but for now GEDI is still active on board the station. The extension could last until after this summer, but from there its future is uncertain.

Some experts believe that the mission should spread even more. GEDI has provided very valuable information over the years and could continue to do so, but according to its operations calendar, its journey will end before 2022.

If the initial plan holds, NASA will launch GEDI from the ISS to Earth. If this final circumstance occurs, it will be the friction of the atmosphere that destroys the device in its fall.

Tools also on Earth.
GEDI’s work would be of little use if experts did not have the tools to access this data and turn it into better forest conservation policies. One of these tools is the Ecosystem Monitoring Framework, launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Fight against deforestation 400 kilometers from the forests.
Deforestation is a phenomenon closely linked to climate change. Trees retain carbon dioxide and expel oxygen by carrying out photosynthesis. The loss of the forest mass not only implies that this process is carried out on an increasingly smaller scale, but also that part of the carbon retained by them returns to the earth’s atmosphere.

Good forest management is important, not only from a global point of view but also locally, as is demonstrated every summer when forest fires start, a serious problem in the Iberian Peninsula. Although fire control has its own specific instruments (some of them also in orbit), tools like GEDI can help us better understand our natural heritage and the services it provides us. It is undoubtedly the first step if we want to protect it.

Image | POT

We often think of space exploration as something outside of our lives, but many of the experiments we launch into…

We often think of space exploration as something outside of our lives, but many of the experiments we launch into…

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