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A first-of-its-kind laser instrument designed to map the world's forests in 3-D is moving toward an earlier launch to the International Space Station than previously expected.

The Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation – or GEDI, pronounced like "Jedi," of Star Wars fame – instrument is undergoing final integration and testing this spring and summer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The instrument is expected to launch aboard SpaceX's 16th commercial resupply services mission, targeted for late 2018. GEDI is being led by the University of Maryland, College Park; the instrument is being built at NASA Goddard.

GEDI's three lasers will produce eight ground tracks – two of the lasers will generate two ground tracks each, and the third will generate four. As the space station and GEDI orbit Earth, laser pulses will reflect off clouds, trees and the planet's surface. While the instrument will gather height information about everything in its path, it is specifically designed to measure forests. The amount and intensity of the light that bounces back to GEDI's telescope will reveal details about the height and density of trees and vegetation, and even the structure of leaves and branches within a forest's canopy.

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