The solid state photon detection technology together with laser ranging techniques have been exploited in developing the space-born laser altimeter for the Soviet project Mars 92 and the Lidar for atmospheric studies for the Mars planet scientific mission NASA Mars Polar Lander '98. The altimeter was based on the laser diode transmitter and a solid state photon counting detector. The unique properties of the solid state photon counter based on silicon permitted to construct a receiver capable of operation in an extreme temperature range, without a high voltage and analogue signal processing. The detector mass was below 100 grams, its power consumption did not exceed 30 milli watts.
The Space Research Institute, Moscow, Russia, did integrate the detector package developed at CTU in the Lidar for the NASA Mars Polar Lander mission in April 1998. The space probe was launched to Mars January 1999, unfortunately, the probe was lost during planet landing.
The new technique of high precision optical guiding and tracking based on a CCD sensor has been developed for the space debris program.
Recently, the possible application of the solid state photon counting detector package for the interplanetary laser ranging transponder is investigated. The project goal is to develop a laser ranging technique capable to determine the distances of the probes flying and landing on the near-Earth planets with the decimetre precision. The long term experience from the photon counting detector applications in the satellite laser ranging systems together with the performance of the space qualified detector packages developed for the Mars missions will be exploited.