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Laser Altimeter

NSSDCA ID: 1972-096A-09

Mission Name: Apollo 17 Command and Service Module (CSM)
Principal Investigator:Dr. William M. Kaula


The Apollo 17 laser altimeter provided ranging data for use in determining the altitude of the CSM above the lunar surface. The time-correlated ranging data, acquired with 1 m resolution, was used to support mapping and panoramic photography, provided precision altitude data for other orbital experiments, and related and defined lunar topographic features with 15 m resolution for a better definition of lunar shape. These data were also used in conjunction with tracking data to improve lunar orbital calculations.

The laser altimeter was aligned with the mapping (metric) camera subsystem mounted on the top shelf in the SIM bay and shared with the mapping camera a SIM shelf-mounted optics protective cover. The altimeter was deployed on a rail-type mechanism for operation. The altimeter operated in two modes: (1) when the metric camera was operating, at which time the altimeter could automatically emit a laser pulse to correspond to a midframe ranging (approximately one ranging pulse every 24 s); and, (2) in a decoupled mode that allowed for independent ranging measurements (solo operation), one every 20 s, when the metric camera was inoperative. Stellar photography was not obtained when the altimeter operated in a decoupled mode.

For more information on the experiment and results, see the "Apollo Laser Altimeter Analysis (S-216)" in PDF form at:

Alternate Names

  • Apollo17CSM/LaserAltimeter
  • S175

Funding Agency

  • NASA-Office of Applications (United States)


  • Planetary Science: Geology and Geophysics

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this experiment can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Dr. William M. KaulaPrincipal InvestigatorUniversity of California, Los Angeles

Selected References

  • Sjogren, W. L., Apollo laser altimeter analysis S-216, JPL, Calif. Inst. Technol., S-215, Pasadena, CA, Jan. 1975.
  • Wollenhaupt, W. R., et al., Apollo 17 laser altimeter, in Apollo 17 Prelim. Sci. Rept., SP-330, 33-41 thru 33-44, NASA, Wash., D.C., 1973.
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