Aerospace Instruments


Atmospheric Sensors

Atmospheric Sensors

Sigma Space has the expertise and facilities to deliver a variety of technology-driven instruments quickly and affordably, as demonstrated by the capabilities of our atmospheric sensors showed in this section.


    Built for NASA, TWiLiTE is the first clear-air Doppler wind speed measurement system to fly on a high-altitude aircraft. The system uses a double-edge detection technique to determine wind speed and direction over altitude for atmospheric monitoring and enhanced weather models.

    Sigma Space has supported TWiLiTE throughout its life cycle, including designing and fabricating the data acquisition system, performing final instrument assembly and alignment, handling the data collected by the system, and supporting ER-2 field campaigns.

    More recently, Sigma Space configured one of its labs for TWiLiTE, developing custom ground support equipment to facilitate in-lab sky-view testing. Utilizing this advanced workspace, we successfully upgraded and reconfigured the TWiLiTE instrument for the Global Hawk aircraft.


    A high-altitude, fringe-imaging Doppler LiDAR with built-in high spectral resolution capabilities, CATS gathers data on both wind motion and the properties of clouds and aerosols.

    Presented with an instrument concept from NASA, Sigma Space designed and fabricated CATS from the ground up—in addition to providing integration, test, and field support.

    Since CATS needed to fly in the wing pod of an ER-2, the instrument had to be small, light, and resistant to significant pressure changes. So we developed innovative hardware including a unique carbon fiber pressure vessel to protect sensitive electronics and an inflatable pressure vessel coupled with a composite housing for the telescope. Rugged and lightweight, the resulting instrument successfully collected data during numerous flights.


    Adaptable design and advanced fabrication

    PACS is a multiwavelength, hyperangular imaging polarimeter designed to provide wide-swath cloud and aerosol measurements. Called upon by NASA to provide optomechanical design and fabrication, Sigma Space designed each of the instrument’s three wavelength channels with a full 80 percent of parts in common. We then used an advanced titanium rapid prototyping technique to build complex yet lightweight optomechanical structures—improving function, cutting costs, and speeding delivery.

    Further, we provided the instrument’s packaging, thermal system, and mounting on the ER-2 aircraft.

    PACS has since flown successfully, and with a modular design and high-technical-readiness parts, can readily be adapted for additional aircraft and spaceflight platforms.


    Expedited delivery and unbeatable reliability

    CPL provides data on cloud height and on the structure of aerosols and smoke plumes needed to better understand the interaction of Earth’s land and atmosphere. Originally flown on the ER-2, CPL is the first NASA active remote sensing instrument to fly on the Global Hawk.

    Sigma Space’s work on CPL highlights the breadth of our instrument development capabilities. Working with a NASA instrument concept, we designed, fabricated, assembled, and integrated the instrument’s complete optomechanical, electrical, data, software, and communication systems on a tight 8-month timetable. The resulting ER‑2-based instrument has since demonstrated excellent performance.

    So when a second CPL configured for flight in the Global Hawk was needed, NASA again turned to Sigma Space. We not only developed the same systems as for the first instrument, but ensured full compatibility with the aircraft’s electrical and software systems in addition to designing and building the needed fairing.


Space Instruments

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Our Aerospace Instrument Division’s scientists and engineers work in close coordination through the entire mission lifecycle. We provide a seamless bridge of scientific and mission objectives with our unique instrument engineering capabilities, including instrument design, analysis, modeling, development, test, calibration, and validation.

Sigma Space has been a key contributor to complex and challenging aerospace instrument programs including the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), ICESAT I and II, and the Glory APS Instrument. Our systemshave flown successfully on both balloons and high altitude aircraft such as the ER-2, returning remarkable data to help scientists begin to understand the nature of our changing planet.

Sigma Space is ready to help you cost-effectively achieve your Aerospace Instrument objectives. 


    The Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS) Laser Reference System (LRS) is a subassembly of the Alignment Monitoring and Control System, AMCS, on the ATLAS instrument, which will be installed on the ICESat-2 spacecraft. ICESat-2 is the second generation Ice, Cloud, and Land Elevation Satellite orbiting laser altimeter.

    The ATLAS LRS consists of two adjoining detector arrays with associated optical systems (cameras), providing the ATLAS instrument with orientation measurements between the star field, the transmitted laser beam pattern, and the Telescope Alignment Monitoring Source, TAMS, measurement pattern. These measurements will be used for geo-location control by the spacecraft as well as geo-location knowledge for the ground processing of scientific data collected from the mission.

    Sigma Space has been integral in the mechanical, optical, and thermal designs of the ATLAS LRS Optical Assembly, including designing and building a custom Optical Ground Support Equipment (OGSE) station for performing functional and comprehensive qualification testing of the instrument. In addition, Sigma Space has contributed to the mechanical design of and is responsible for fabricating a one of a kind Sunshade, which allows the ATLAS LRS to meet mission requirements while the sun is near to the LRS Field of View.


    The ATLAS instrument will perform highly accurate three-dimensional measurements of the Earth’s surface and structures using a photon counting technique. Photon counting allows for the use of a low powered laser and single-photon sensitive detectors. These measurements are performed with Sigma Space's Photon Counting Electronics (PCE) cards. Three PCE cards reside in the Main Electronics Box (MEB) of the ATLAS instrument, which will be installed on the Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) spacecraft.

    The ATLAS instrument uses a multi-beam approach in transmitting three laser tracks on the Earth. Each PCE card is assigned to one track, and each PCE card independently performs fine time of flight measurements of returned photons with centimeter-level vertical resolution. Simultaneously, the PCE generates histograms for the returned photons in order to help find the surface of the Earth. The PCE uses an embedded processor running an advanced algorithm along with custom hardware co-processing to help determine which of the acquired time measurements relate to the topographic features of the Earth.



Sigma Space creates custom, cutting-edge aerospace instrument systems for a wide variety of applications. Whether the task at hand is monitoring climate change or measuring topography, we collaborate with clients to design and build mission-critical instruments.


  • Fast, Flexible, Affordable & End-to-End Solutions
    Fast, Flexible, Affordable

    At Sigma Space, we work in small interdisciplinary teams to translate customer requirements into advanced instrument solutions. Our small team method enhances communication and enables our engineers and technicians to produce leading edge technologies quickly and affordably.

    End-to-End Solutions

    From conceptualization to operations, our expert personnel support the full instrument development life cycle including design, analysis, fabrication, assembly, test, and mission support. From LiDAR and altimeter instruments to attitude determination systems, custom electronics, and beyond, we have successfully created and deployed a variety of different types of instrument systems.

  • Expertise Across Platforms & Ensuring Excellence
    Expertise Across Platforms

    Sigma Space designs and builds sophisticated instruments for terrestrial, airborne, and space-based platforms. Our spaceflight expertise includes high-resolution optics, advanced electronics such as synchronous FPGA designs and SpaceWire and 1553B communication protocols, and space-certified quality control procedures. We also design instruments for a variety of aircraft, from the P-3 Orion and ER-2 to the Viking 300 UAV and Global Hawk, as well as for ground-based applications.

    Ensuring Excellence

    With advanced in-house fabrication facilities such as a spaceflight-certified CNC machining center with fundamental meteorology capability, thermal vacuum chambers, class 10,000 clean rooms, ESD-certified laboratories, and a suite of tools including collimators, interferometers, and electrical analysis equipment, Sigma Space ensures tight quality control throughout the instrument development process. And with co- located engineering and fabrication, we can rapidly respond to emerging issues and evolving customer requirements.

  • Superior Performance in Demanding Environments & Fully Integrated Instrument Systems
    Superior Performance in Demanding Environments

    Rugged and reliable, our instruments are designed to resist environmental extremes. Whatever the platform, thermal resilience, shock and vibration accommodation, and autonomous alignment and adjustment are built into our instruments from the outset. We also rigorously test at every step along the way to ensure unparalleled performance when it matters most.

    Fully Integrated Instrument Systems

    Sigma Space provides comprehensive integration, test, and payload support services, as well as application-specific, user-friendly software for seamless data collection, analysis, and visualization. Finally, after instrument deployment, we offer operations and field campaign support as part of our end-to-end development services.


Multi Channel Scalers

Multichannel scalers are used in a variety of applications. An example of an airborne LiDAR application is when a laser is fired down to the earth from a high flying aircraft. As the optical laser output moves downward, some of the light is reflected due to aerosols, clouds, and other particulate in the atmosphere.

    24 Channel MCS Data System

    Complete Photon Counting System For LiDAR-Based Programs includes:

    • Enclosure
    • Acquisition Hardware
    • Application Software
    • USB Hub
    • Laser Sync Distribution


    4 Channel MCS Data System

    Complete Photon Counting System For LiDAR-Based Programs includes:

    • Enclosure
    • Acquisition Hardware
    • Application Software
  • AMCS 5

    Originally designed for NASA GSFC’s Cloud Physics LiDAR (CPL) instrument, the AMCS-5 card collected excellent data in several campaigns on the high-altitude ER-2 aircraft in such campaigns such as SAFARI 2000 and CRYSTAL-FACE. The AMCS-5 card also is used in NASA GSFC’s Thickness from Off-beam Returns (THOR) LiDAR system. In addition, the AMCS-5 was put to use in several commercial stand-off detection systems.

    Low Power (2.5Watts for all 5 Input Channels)
    PC/104 Form Factor (3.6" x 3.8")
    Flexible and Programmable Architecture

    The AMCS-5 is a five input multichannel scaler card to be used in pulse counting, integrating, and histogramming applications. The AMCS-5 accepts five different pulse inputs that are counted simultaneously based upon a single Sync input signal. In addition, there are two generic pulse outputs and a third accumulation delay pulse indicating the start of an integration cycle. Parameters such as time resolution per bin, number of bins, accumulation delay, number of accumulations, and pulse polarity are set by the user via software control. A host CPU is notified of a completed integration cycle via a bus interrupt or by polling an internal status register. The AMCS-5 card is in a PC/104 form factor (3.6 inches by 3.8 inches) and is intended to be used in a stacked PC/104 application utilizing the PC/104 ISA Bus.


    Low power
    USB Interface
    Flexible and Programmable Architecture and Memory Reconfiguration

    The AMCS-USB card was designed to support low-power, compact systems with a convenient USB interface. Initially designed as a key component of the MicroPulse LiDAR (MPL) systems, the AMCS-USB card has been deployed worldwide for use in numerous data systems running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It has been used in the following NASA GSFC LiDAR instruments: Holographic Airborne Rotating LiDAR (HARLIE), Goddard LiDAR Observatory for Winds (GLOW), and Tropospheric Wind LiDAR Technology Experiment (TWiLiTE) systems. The AMCS-USB card and systems based on it have been sold to government institutions, research organizations, and universities. An eight channel version, the AMCS-USB+ card was also produced and sold for use in a LiDAR system requiring additional channels. Over 200 AMCS-USB cards have been put into use around the world.

    The AMCS-USB is a four input multichannel scaler (MCS) card to be used in pulse counting, integrating, and histogramming applications. The AMCS-USB accepts four different pulse inputs that are counted simultaneously based upon a single Sync input signal. In addition, there are two generic pulse outputs and a third accumulation delay pulse indicating the start of an integration cycle. The AMCS-USB card is highly integrated in that all storage memory and multichannel scaler functions are contained within a single chip. Parameters such as time resolution per bin, number of bins, accumulation delay, number of accumulations, and pulse polarity are set by the user via software control. The AMCS-USB card transmits data to a host CPU at the end of a completed integration cycle. All data transfers (i.e. commands from the host and acquired data from the card) are made via the Universal Serial Bus (USB) 1.1 interface. The AMCS-USB card is in a form factor of approximately 4.2 inches x 4.0 inches.

  • APCS

    Low power
    USB 2.0 Interface
    A/D inputs, Communications ports, Storage

    The Advanced Photon Counting System (APCS) card was designed to enhance and expand NASA’s Cloud Physics LiDAR (CPL) system. Since 2003, the APCS has been used in CPL, flying in both ER-2 and Global Hawk platforms. To date, it has flown in over 20 different field campaigns. The APCS card is also used as the primary data collection source for the Tropospheric Wind LiDAR Technology Experiment (TWiLiTE) instrument which has also flown in both the ER-2 and Global Hawk. 

    The APCS card provides powerful system-level functions common to many pulse counting, integrating, and histogramming data collection applications. In addition to being 10-detector input multichannel scaler, the APCS card provides for four serial UARTs (two of which can be configured as a RS-232 or RS-422 and two which are for future command functionality), 16 A/D inputs for housekeeping data collection, power outputs (+12V, -12V, and +3.3V) for peripheral usage, a battery-backed real-time clock chip (for time tagging data), 10 outputs configured as pulses or discretes, and signals for cascading more than one APCS card in a system. The APCS card uses a USB 2.0 interface and may be operated in local or remote (embedded) modes. Most of the APCS card's parameters are software configurable by the user while certain parameters may be hardwired on the APCS circuit board prior to customer delivery. The APCS card also has a connector and mounting holes for the direct connection of an optional 2.5 hard drive for direct storage of all collected data as well as a connector for a daughtercard that provides five detector channels of 1 ns (1 GHz) resolution. The APCS card may be updated via the USB 2.0 port, providing for future expandability and for convenience in debugging. The APCS card has a form factor 6.5" x 10”. A software driver development package and test application are also available.


    Complete Data System Utilizing APCS Card includes:

    • Enclosure
    • Acquisition Hardware
    • Software Driver Development Package
    • Test Application
  • Ruggedized Portable Memory Connector SSRD Series

    Connector Specifications:

    • USB 2.0 Hi-Speed or Secure Digital (SD) compatible electrical interfaces
    • Leak rate of TBD cc N / sec @ 1 atm of differential, epoxy seal, applicable for low pressure environments
    • Outgassing per NASA 1124 rev 4:  0.77 %TML, 0.04% CVCM, 0.23 %Wtr (acceptable near optical components)
    • Shield tied internally to connector shell (less than 40 milliohms) for improved EMI performance.  

    Connector Features:

    • Utilizes the Datakey SlimLine™ contact system and is rated for 50,000 insertion/removal cycles.1  
    • Supports Datakey extended length SlimLine™ memory tokens, including UFX (USB electrical interface) or DFX (SD electrical interface) RUGGEDrive™ memory tokens.  Visit http://datakey.com/products/ruggedrive for more information on RUGGEDrive™ memory tokens.
    • Provides rugged, compact, portable memory for applications with high shock/vibration environments such as airborne instruments. Memory device is constrained in three dimensions.
    • Supports NASA and DoD needs  

    Mechanical Information:

    • Box mount, cadmium finish
    • Dimensions and panel cutout