Solar System Exploration Division

Xiaoli Sun


Xiaoli Sun's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.614.6732
Org Code: 698
Mail Code 698
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Brief Bio

Xiaoli Sun is a Research Physical Scientist at the Planetary Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). He was the Lead Engineer in the photodetector development and receiver performance analysis for various space lidar developed at NASA GSFC, including the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter on the Mars Global Surveyor Mission and the Geoscience Laser Altimeter System on the ICESat Mission. He was the instrument scientist for the Mercury Laser Altimeter on the MESSENGER mission, the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, and the one-way Laser Ranging system on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. He led the first two-way laser ranging experiment between the MESSENGER spacecraft and Earth over 24 million km in 2005, and the first lunar laser communication experiments from Earth to LRO at lunar distance in 2012. Recently, he has been leading the research and application of HgCdTe avalanche photodiode arrays for future swath mapping lidar and spectroscopic infrared lidar at NASA GSFC. He received the B.S. degree from Taiyuan Institute of Technology, Taiyuan, China, in 1982, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA, in 1985 and 1989, respectively.

Research Interests

Laser remote sensing from space.

Solar System: Remote Sensing

lidar in space from orbiting spacecraft and on landers and rovers for range and spectroscopic measurements from visible to infrared.

Advanced lidar detectors.

Current Projects

Small All-range Lidar (SALi) under a MatISSE-18 program and linear mode photon counting lidar detectors under a PICASSO-17 program.

Remote Sensing

SALi/MatISSE: To develop a prototype small and all-range lidar for asteroids, comet cores, and other planetary bodies. 

HgCdTe APD array/PICASSO: To develop a multi-pixel linear mode photon detector from visible to mid-infrared to improve and extend space lidar measurement capabilities in finer spatial resolution and coverage, laser wavelength range, atmosphere vertical profile, and laser spectral absorption from visible to mid-infrared.

Laser retro-reflector arrays for lunar landers


Miniature laser retro-reflector arrays on top of lunar landers for laser ranging from orbiting lidar.


1989 Ph.D. in electrical engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore MD
1985 M.S.E., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
1982 B.S. Taiyuan Institute of Technology, Taiyuan, China.



2021. "Volatile interactions with the lunar surface." Geochemistry 125858 [10.1016/j.chemer.2021.125858] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Measuring Atmospheric CO 2 Enhancements From the 2017 British Columbia Wildfires Using a Lidar." Geophysical Research Letters 48 (16): [10.1029/2021gl093805] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Small PN-Code Lidar for Asteroid and Comet Missions – Receiver Processing and Performance Simulations." Remote Sensing 13 (12): 2282 [Full Text] [10.3390/rs13122282] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Retrieval algorithm for the column CO2 mixing ratio from pulsed multi-wavelength lidar measurements." Atmospheric Measurement Techniques 14 (5): 3909-3922 [10.5194/amt-14-3909-2021] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Small All-range Lidar for Asteroid and Comet Core Missions ." Sensors 21 (9): 3081 [Full Text] [10.3390/s21093081] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Proton Radiation Effects on HgCdTe Avalanche Photodiode Detectors." IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science 68 (1): 27-35 [10.1109/tns.2020.3040741] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "First Two-way Laser Ranging to a Lunar Orbiter: infrared observations from the Grasse station to LRO’s retro-reflector array ." Earth, Planets and Space [Full Text] [10.1186/s40623-020-01243-w] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Optical Characterization of Laser Retroreflector Arrays for Lunar Landers." Applied Optics 59 (16): 5020-5031 [] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Design of a direct-detection wind and aerosol lidar for mars orbit." CEAS Space Journal 12 (2): 149-162 [10.1007/s12567-020-00301-z] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "Small and Lightweight Laser Retro-Reflector Arrays for Lunar Landers." Applied Optics 58 (33): 9259-9266 [10.1364/AO.58.009259] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "Time and laser ranging: a window of opportunity for geodesy, navigation, and metrology." Journal of Geodesy 93 (11): 2389–2404 [10.1007/s00190-018-1173-8] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "Searching for lunar horizon glow with the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter." Journal of Geophysical Research - Planets [10.1029/2019JE006020] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "HgCdTe avalanche photodiode array detectors with single photon sensitivity and integrated detector cooler assemblies for space lidar applications." Optical Engineering 58 (06): 1 [10.1117/1.oe.58.6.067103] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "The GEDI simulator: A large‐footprint waveform lidar simulator for calibration and validation of spaceborne missions." Earth and Space Science 6 (2): 294-310 [10.1029/2018ea000506] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "In-flight characterization of the lunar orbiter laser altimeter instrument pointing and far-field pattern." Applied Optics 57 (27): 7702 [10.1364/ao.57.007702] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Airborne measurements of CO2 column concentrations made with a pulsed IPDA lidar using a multiple-wavelength-locked laser and HgCdTe APD detector." Atmospheric Measurement Techniques 11 (4): 2001-2025 [10.5194/amt-11-2001-2018] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Trilogy, a planetary geodesy mission concept for measuring the expansion of the solar system." Planetary and Space Science 153 127-133 [Full Text] [10.1016/j.pss.2018.02.003] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Measurement of atmospheric CO2 column concentrations to cloud tops with a pulsed multi-wavelength airborne lidar." Atmospheric Measurement Techniques 11 (1): 127-140 [10.5194/amt-11-127-2018] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Lidar Sensors From Space." Comprehensive Remote Sensing 412-434 [10.1016/b978-0-12-409548-9.10327-6] [Article in Book]

2018. "A singular value decomposition framework for retrievals with vertical distribution information from greenhouse gas column absorption spectroscopy measurements." Atmospheric Measurement Techniques 11 (8): 4909--4928 [10.5194/amt-11-4909-2018] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "ICESAT/GLAS Altimetry Measurements: Received Signal Dynamic Range and Saturation Correction." IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 1-15 [10.1109/tgrs.2017.2702126] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "The Laser Ranging Experiment of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter: Five Years of Operations and Data Analysis." Icarus 283 55-69 [10.1016/j.icarus.2016.07.003] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "Summary of the Results from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter after Seven Years in Lunar Orbit." Icarus 283 70-91 [10.1016/j.icarus.2016.06.006] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) From Space - Laser Altimeters." Wiley Encyclopedia of Electrical and Electronics Engineering 1-14 [10.1002/047134608x.w8320] [Article in Book]

2016. "Lunar phase function at 1064 nm from Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter passive and active radiometry." Icarus 273 96–113 [10.1016/j.icarus.2016.02.008] [Journal Article/Letter]

2015. "Radiation-resistant photon-counting detector package providing sub-ps stability for laser time transfer in space." Journal of Modern Optics 62 (20): 1703-1708 [10.1080/09500340.2015.1076078] [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "Calibration of the Mercury Laser Altimeter on the MESSENGER Spacecraft." IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing 53 (5): 2860-2874 [10.1109/TGRS.2014.2366080] [Journal Article/Letter]

2013. "Bright and Dark Polar Deposits on Mercury: Evidence for Surface Volatiles." Science 339 (6117): 296-300 [Full Text] [10.1126/science.1229764] [Journal Article/Letter]

2013. "Free space laser communication experiments from Earth to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in lunar orbit." Optics Express 21 (2): 1865 [10.1364/oe.21.001865] [Journal Article/Letter]

2013. "Space lidar developed at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center - the first 20 years." IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing 6 (3): 1660-1675 [doi:10.1109/jstars.2013.2259578] [Journal Article/Letter]

2012. "Topography of the Northern Hemisphere of Mercury from MESSENGER Laser Altimetry." Science 336 (6078): 217-220 [Full Text] [10.1126/science.1218805] [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "Pulsed airborne lidar measurements of atmospheric CO2 column absorption." Tellus B: Chemical and Physical Meteorology 62 (5): 770-783 [10.1111/j.1600-0889.2010.00502.x] [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Laser Ranging Investigation." Space Science Reviews 150 (1-4): 63-80 [10.1007/s11214-009-9511-z] [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "Simulation studies for a space-based CO2 lidar mission." Tellus B 62 (5): 759-769 [10.1111/j.1600-0889.2010.00486.X] [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "Initial observations from the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA)." Geophys. Res. Lett. 37 [Full Text] [10.1029/2010GL043751] [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter Investigation on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission." Space Science Reviews 150 (1-4): 209-241 [Journal Article/Letter]

2007. "The Mercury Laser Altimeter Instrument for the MESSENGER Mission." Space Science Reviews 131 (1-4): 451-479 [10.1007/s11214-007-9273-4] [Journal Article/Letter]

2006. "Two-Way Laser Link over Interplanetary Distance." Science 311 (5757): 53-53 [10.1126/science.1120091] [Journal Article/Letter]

2006. "Mars 1064 nm spectral radiance measurements determined from the receiver noise response of the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter." Applied Optics IP, vol 45, Issue 17, pp3960-3971 45 3960 [Full Text] [10.1364/AO.45.003960] [Journal Article/Letter]

2005. "ICESat Measurement of Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Slope and Roughness." Annals of Glaciology 42 83-89 [Journal Article/Letter]

2005. "Geoscience Laser Altimeter System (GLAS) on the ICESat Mission: On-orbit measurement performance." Geophysical Research Letters 32 (21): L21S02 [Full Text] [10.1029/2005GL024028] [Journal Article/Letter]

2004. "Geoscience laser altimeter system (GLAS) on the ICESat mission: pre-launch and on-orbit measurement performance." IGARSS 2003. 2003 IEEE International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium. Proceedings [10.1109/igarss.2003.1294166] [Proceedings]

2003. "Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter pulse width measurements and footprint-scale roughness." Geophysical Research Letters 30 (11): 1561 [10.1029/2003GL017048] [Journal Article/Letter]

2001. "Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter: Experiment summary after the first year of global mapping of Mars ." J. Geophysical Research-Planets 106 (E10): 23689-23722 [Full Text] [10.1029/2000JE001364] [Journal Article/Letter]

2000. "Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter: Receiver Model and Performance Analysis." Applied Optics LP, vol 39, Issue 15, pp2449-2460 39 2449 [Full Text] [10.1364/AO.39.002449] [Journal Article/Letter]


2021. "Measuring Mars Atmospheric Winds from Orbit." Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.6576a506] [Other]

2020. "Advanced silicon avalanche photodiodes on NASA's Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) mission." Proceedings of the Photonic Instrumentation Engineering VII 1128713 [10.1117/12.2545203] [Proceedings]

2018. "A spectrographic receiver for laser spectrometers." Multispectral, Hyperspectral, and Ultraspectral Remote Sensing Technology, Techniques and Applications VII 10780 [10.1117/12.2324818] [Proceedings]

2018. "Development of a Mars lidar (MARLI) for measuring wind and aerosol profiles from orbit." Lidar Technologies, Techniques, and Measurements for Atmospheric Remote Sensing XIV [10.1117/12.2325408] [Proceedings]

2018. "Evaluation of space radiation effects on HgCdTe avalanche photodiode arrays for Lidar applications." Infrared Technology and Applications XLIV [10.1117/12.2304601] [Proceedings]

2018. "Single photon HgCdTe avalanche photodiode and integrated detector cooler assemblies for space lidar applications." Advanced Photon Counting Techniques XII [10.1117/12.2305017] [Proceedings]

2017. "LIDAR technology for measuring trace gases on Mars and Earth." International Conference on Space Optics — ICSO 2010 [10.1117/12.2309207] [Proceedings]

2016. "The Contributions of ILRS Laser Ranging to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission." 20th International Workshop on Laser Ranging, Potsdam Germany, October 9-14, 2016 [Full Text] [Proceedings]

2016. "Application of Satellite Laser Ranging Techniques for Space Situational Awareness Efforts." Proceedings of the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies Conference, Wailea, Maui, Hawaii, September 20-23, 2016, [Full Text] [Proceedings]

2015. "Linear mode photon counting from visible to MWIR with HgCdTe avalanche photodiode focal plane arrays." Advanced Photon Counting Techniques IX [10.1117/12.2180394] [Proceedings]

2014. "In-flight performance of the Mercury Laser Altimeter laser transmitter." Solid State Lasers XXIII: Technology and Devices [10.1117/12.2041452] [Proceedings]


2013. "Simultaneous Laser Ranging and Communication from an Earth-Based Satellite Laser Ranging Station to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in Lunar Orbit.”." Proceedings of the SPIE XXV Conference on Free-Space Laser Communication and Atmospheric Propagation [10.1117/12.2006645] [Proceedings]

2013. "A 16-beam non-scanning swath mapping laser altimeter instrument." Solid State Lasers XXII: Technology and Devices, Proceedings of SPIE 8599 [10.1117/12.2005651] [Proceedings]

2012. "Mapping Mercury Topography by Laser – Performance of the Mercury Laser Altimeter on the MESSENGER Spacecraft." SPIE Newsroom 3 [10.1117/2.1201210.004489] [Journal Article/Letter]

2012. "Multi-beam Laser Altimeter System Simulator for the Lidar Surface Topography (LIST) Mission." 2012 CONFERENCE ON LASERS AND ELECTRO-OPTICS (CLEO) [Full Text] [10.1364/CLEO_AT.2012.ATu2G.6] [Proceedings]

2011. "Development effort of the airborne lidar simulator for the lidar surface topography (LIST) mission." Lidar Technologies, Techniques, and Measurements for Atmospheric Remote Sensing VII, Proceedings of SPIE 8182 [10.1117/12.898545] [Proceedings]

2010. "Spaceborne laser instruments for high-resolution mapping." Solid State Lasers XIX: Technology and Devices, Proceedings of SPIE 7578 [10.1117/12.843191] [Proceedings]

2010. "A Spaceborne lidar for high resolution topographic mapping of the Earths surface." SPIE Newsroom [10.1117/2.1201002.002655] [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "The Slope Imaging Multi-polarization Photon-counting Lidar: Development and performance results." Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS), 2010 IEEE International 653-656 [10.1109/IGARSS.2010.5650862] [Proceedings]

2009. "Laser Altimeter Measurements from MESSENGER's Recent Mercury Flybys." 2009 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics and Quantum Electronics and Laser Science 116-117 [Full Text] [Journal Article/Letter]

2008. "The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Mission." Proceedings of the 2008 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics [10.1109/cleo.2008.4551271] [Proceedings]

2008. "Direct-detection free-space laser transceiver test-bed." Proceedings of the Free-Space Laser Communication Technologies XX SPIE.6877 687703 [10.1117/12.758654] [Proceedings]

2007. "The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter and the Laser Ranging System on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter." Proceedings of the 2007 Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics/Quantum Electronics and Laser Science) 1-5 1469+ [Full Text] [Proceedings]

2007. "Pushbroom Laser Altimetry using Fiber Lasers and Photon Counting Detectors ." 2007 Conference on Lasers & Electro-Optics/Quantum Electronics and Laser Science Conference (CLEO/QELS 1-5 1467-1468 [Full Text] [Proceedings]