2019 Volume 17 Issue 2 Pages 234-243
Laser altimetry is a powerful tool for addressing the major objectives of planetary physics and geodesy. Through measurements of distances between a spacecraft and the surface of the planetary bodies, it can be used to determine the global shape and radius: global, regional, and local topography: tidal deformation: and rotational states including physical librations. Laser altimeters have been applied in planetary explorations of the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and the asteroids Eros, and Itokawa. The JUpiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE), led by European Space Agency (ESA), has started development to explore the emergence of habitable worlds around gas giants. The Ganymede Laser Altimeter (GALA) will be the first laser altimeter for icy bodies, and will measure the shape and topography of the large icy moons of Jupiter, (globally for Ganymede, and using flyby ground-tracks for Europa and Callisto). Such information is crucial for understanding the formation of surface features and can tremendously improve our understanding of the icy tectonics. In addition, the GALA will infer the presence or absence of a subsurface ocean by measuring the tidal and rotational responses. Furthermore, it also improves the accuracy of gravity field measurements reflecting the interior structure, collaborating with the radio science experiment. In addition to range measurements, the signal strength and the waveform of the laser pulses reflected from the moon's surface contain information about surface reflectance at the laser wavelength and small scale roughness. Therefore we can infer the degrees of chemical and physical alterations, e.g., erosion, space weathering, compaction and deposition of exogenous materials, through GALA measurements without being affected by illumination conditions. JUICE spacecraft carries ten science payloads including GALA. They work closely together in a synergistic way with GALA being one of the key instruments for understanding the evolution of the icy satellites Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto.