Synthetic aperture radar
Synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) is a form of radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

 whose defining characteristic is its use of relative motion between an antenna and its target region to provide distinctive long-term coherent-signal variations that are exploited to obtain finer spatial resolution than is possible with conventional beam-scanning means. It originated as an advanced form of side-looking airborne radar (SLAR)
Side looking airborne radar
Side-looking airborne radar is an aircraft- or satellite-mounted imaging radar pointing perpendicular to the direction of flight . A squinted mode is possible also. SLAR can be fitted with a real aperture antenna or an antenna using synthetic aperture .The platform of the radar moves in direction...


SAR is usually implemented by mounting, on a moving platform such as an aircraft or spacecraft, a single beam-forming antenna from which a target scene is repeatedly illuminated with pulses of radio waves at wavelengths anywhere from a meter down to millimeters. The many echo waveforms received successively at the different antenna positions are coherently detected and stored and then post-processed together to resolve elements in an image of the target region.

Current (2010) airborne systems provide resolutions to about 10 cm, ultra-wideband systems provide resolutions of a few millimeters, and experimental terahertz SAR has provided sub-millimeter resolution in the laboratory.

SAR images have wide applications in remote sensing and mapping of the surfaces of both the Earth and other planets. SAR can also be implemented as "inverse SAR" by observing a moving target over a substantial time with a stationary antenna.

Relationship to phased arrays

The term “synthetic”, as used here, needs some clarification. That word came into popular use after chemists began to synthesize (literally, to assemble from subsidiary elements) materials sometimes not found in nature. It then began to be used to denote things thought of as “imitations” or even “fake”.

A technique closely related to SAR uses an array (referred to as a "phased array
Phased array
In wave theory, a phased array is an array of antennas in which the relative phases of the respective signals feeding the antennas are varied in such a way that the effective radiation pattern of the array is reinforced in a desired direction and suppressed in undesired directions.An antenna array...

") of real antenna elements spatially distributed over either one or two dimensions across the range dimension. These physical arrays are truly synthetic ones, indeed being created by synthesis of a collection of subsidiary physical antennas. Their operation need not involve motion relative to targets. All elements of these arrays receive simultaneously in real time, and the signals passing through them can be individually subjected to controlled shifts of the phases of those signals. One result can be to respond most strongly to radiation received from a specific small scene area, focusing on that area to determine its contribution to the total signal received. The coherently detected set of signals received over the entire array aperture can be replicated in several data-processing channels and processed differently in each. The set of responses thus traced to different small scene areas can be displayed together as an image of the scene.

In comparison, a SAR's (commonly) single physical antenna element gathers signals at different positions at different times. When the radar is carried by an aircraft or an orbiting vehicle, those positions are functions of a single variable, distance along the vehicle’s path, which is a single mathematical dimension (not necessarily the same as a linear geometric dimension). The signals are stored, thus becoming functions, no longer of time, but of recording locations along that dimension. When the stored signals are read out later and combined with specific phase shifts, the result is the same as if the recorded data had been gathered by an equally long and shaped phased array. What is thus synthesized is a set of signals equivalent to what could have been received simultaneously by such an actual large-aperture (in one dimension) phased array. The SAR simulates (rather than synthesizes) that long one-dimensional phased array. Although the term in the title of this article has thus been incorrectly derived, it is now firmly established by half a century of usage.

While operation of a phased array is readily understood as a completely geometric technique, the fact that a synthetic aperture system gathers its data as it (or its target) moves at some speed means that phases which varied with the distance traveled originally varied with time, hence constituted temporal frequencies. Temporal frequencies being the variables commonly used by radar engineers, their analyses of SAR systems are usually (and very productively) couched in such terms. In particular, the variation of phase during flight over the length of the synthetic aperture is seen as a sequence of Doppler
Doppler effect
The Doppler effect , named after Austrian physicist Christian Doppler who proposed it in 1842 in Prague, is the change in frequency of a wave for an observer moving relative to the source of the wave. It is commonly heard when a vehicle sounding a siren or horn approaches, passes, and recedes from...

 shifts of the received frequency from that of the transmitted frequency. It is significant, though, to realize that, once the received data have been recorded and thus have become timeless, the SAR data-processing situation is also understandable as a special type of phased array, treatable as a completely geometric process.

The core of both the SAR and the phased array techniques is that the distances that radar waves travel to and back from each scene element consist of some integer number of wavelengths plus some fraction of a "final" wavelength. Those fractions cause differences between the phases of the re-radiation received at various SAR or array positions. Coherent detection is needed to capture the signal phase information in addition to the signal amplitude information. That type of detection requires finding the differences between the phases of the received signals and the simultaneous phase of a well-preserved sample of the transmitted illumination.

Every wave scattered from any point in the scene has a circular curvature about that point as a center. Signals from scene points at different ranges therefore arrive at a planar array with different curvatures, resulting in signal phase changes which follow different quadratic variations across a planar phased array. Additional linear variations result from points located in different directions from the center of the array. Fortunately, any one combination of these variations is unique to one scene point, and is calculable. For a SAR, the two-way travel doubles that phase change.

In reading the following two paragraphs, be particularly careful to distinguish between array elements and scene elements. Also remember that each of the latter has, of course, a matching image element.

Comparison of the array-signal phase variation across the array with the total calculated phase variation pattern can reveal the relative portion of the total received signal that came from the only scene point that could be responsible for that pattern. One way to do the comparison is by a correlation computation, multiplying, for each scene element, the received and the calculated field-intensity values array element by array element and then summing the products for each scene element. Alternatively, one could, for each scene element, subtract each array element’s calculated phase shift from the actual received phase and then vectorially sum the resulting field-intensity differences over the array. Wherever in the scene the two phases substantially cancel everywhere in the array, the difference vectors being added are in phase, yielding, for that scene point, a maximum value for the sum.

The equivalence of these two methods can be seen by recognizing that multiplication of sinusoids can be done by summing phases which are complex-number exponents of e, the base of natural logarithms.

However it is done, the image-deriving process amounts to “backtracking” the process by which nature previously spread the scene information over the array. In each direction, the process may be viewed as a Fourier transform
Fourier transform
In mathematics, Fourier analysis is a subject area which grew from the study of Fourier series. The subject began with the study of the way general functions may be represented by sums of simpler trigonometric functions...

, which is a type of correlation process. The image-extraction process we use can then be seen as another Fourier transform which is a reversal of the original natural one.

It is important to realize that only those sub-wavelength differences of successive ranges from the transmitting antenna to each target point and back, which govern signal phase, are used to refine the resolution in any geometric dimension. The central direction and the angular width of the illuminating beam do not contribute directly to creating that fine resolution. Instead, they serve only to select the solid-angle region from which usable range data are received. While some distinguishing of the ranges of different scene items can be made from the forms of their sub-wavelength range variations at short ranges, the very large depth of focus that occurs at long ranges usually requires that over-all range differences (larger than a wavelength) be used to define range resolutions comparable to the achievable cross-range resolution.

Typical operation

In a typical SAR application, a single radar antenna is attached to an aircraft or spacecraft so as to radiate a beam whose wave-propagation direction has a substantial component perpendicular to the flight-path direction. The beam is allowed to be broad in the vertical direction so it will illuminate the terrain from nearly beneath the aircraft out toward the horizon.

Resolution in the range dimension of the image is accomplished by creating pulses which define very short time intervals, either by emitting short pulses consisting of a "carrier" frequency and the necessary "sidebands", all within a certain bandwidth, or by using longer "chirp pulses" in which frequency varies (often linearly) with time within that bandwidth. The differing times at which echoes return allow points at different distances to be distinguished.

The total signal is that from a beamwidth-sized patch of the ground. To produce a beam that is narrow in the cross-range direction, diffraction
Diffraction refers to various phenomena which occur when a wave encounters an obstacle. Italian scientist Francesco Maria Grimaldi coined the word "diffraction" and was the first to record accurate observations of the phenomenon in 1665...

 effects require that the antenna be wide in that dimension. Therefore the distinguishing, from each other, of co-range points simply by strengths of returns that persist for as long as they are within the beam width is difficult with aircraft-carryable antennas, because their beams can have linear widths only about two orders of magnitude (hundreds of times) smaller than the range. (Spacecraft-carryable ones can do 10 or more times better.) However, if both the amplitude and the phase of returns are recorded, then the portion of that multi-target return that was scattered radially from any smaller scene element can be extracted by phase-vector correlation of the total return with the form of the return expected from each such element. Careful design and operation can accomplish resolution of items smaller than a millionth of the range, for example, 30 cm at 300 km, or about one foot at nearly 200 miles (321.9 km).

The process can be thought of as combining the series of spatially distributed observations as if all had been made simultaneously with an antenna as long as the beamwidth and focused on that particular point. The “synthetic aperture” simulated at maximum system range by this process not only is longer than the real antenna, but, in practical applications, it is much longer than the radar aircraft, and tremendously longer than the radar spacecraft.

Image resolution of SAR in its range coordinate (expressed in image pixels per distance unit) is mainly proportional to the radio bandwidth of whatever type of pulse is used. In the cross-range coordinate, the similar resolution is mainly proportional to the bandwidth of the Doppler shift of the signal returns within the beamwidth. Since Doppler frequency depends on the angle of the scattering point's direction from the broadside direction, the Doppler bandwidth available within the beamwidth is the same at all ranges. Hence the theoretical spatial resolution limits in both image dimensions remain constant with variation of range. However, in practice, both the errors that accumulate with data-collection time and the particular techniques used in post-processing further limit cross-range resolution at long ranges.

The conversion of return delay time to geometric range can be very accurate because of the natural constancy of the speed and direction of propagation of electromagnetic waves. However, for an aircraft flying through the never-uniform and never-quiescent atmosphere, the relating of pulse transmission and reception times to successive geometric positions of the antenna must be accompanied by constant adjusting of the return phases to account for sensed irregularities in the flight path. SAR's in spacecraft avoid that atmosphere problem, but still must make corrections for known antenna movements due to rotations of the spacecraft, even those that are reactions to movements of onboard machinery. Locating a SAR in a manned space vehicle may require that the humans carefully remain motionless relative to the vehicle during data collection periods.

Although some references to SARs have characterized them as "radar telescopes", their actual optical analogy is the microscope, the detail in their images being smaller than the length of the synthetic aperture. In radar-engineering terms, while the target area is in the "far field" of the illuminating antenna, it is in the "near field" of the simulated one.

Returns from scatterers within the range extent of any image are spread over a matching time interval. The inter-pulse period must be long enough to allow farthest-range returns from any pulse to finish arriving before the nearest-range ones from the next pulse begin to appear, so that those do not overlap each other in time. On the other hand, the interpulse rate must be fast enough to provide sufficient samples for the desired across-range (or across-beam) resolution. When the radar is to be carried by a high-speed vehicle and is to image a large area at fine resolution, those conditions may clash, leading to what has been called SAR's ambiguity problem. The same considerations apply to "conventional" radars also, but this problem occurs significantly only when resolution is so fine as to be available only through SAR processes. Since the basis of the problem is the information-carrying capacity of the single signal-input channel provided by one antenna, the only solution is to use additional channels fed by additional antennas. The system then becomes a hybrid of a SAR and a phased array, sometimes being called a Vernier Array.

Combining the series of observations requires significant computational resources, usually using Fourier transform
Fourier transform
In mathematics, Fourier analysis is a subject area which grew from the study of Fourier series. The subject began with the study of the way general functions may be represented by sums of simpler trigonometric functions...

 techniques. The high digital computing speed now available allows such processing to be done in near-real time on board a SAR aircraft. (There is necessarily a minimum time delay until all parts of the signal have been received.) The result is a map of radar reflectivity, including both amplitude and phase. The amplitude information, when shown in a map-like display, gives information about ground cover in much the same way that a black-and-white photo does. Variations in processing may also be done in either vehicle-borne stations or ground stations for various purposes, so as to accentuate certain image features for detailed target-area analysis.

Although the phase information in an image is generally not made available to a human observer of an image display device, it can be preserved numerically, and sometimes allows certain additional features of targets to be recognized. Unfortunately, the phase differences between adjacent image picture elements ("pixels") also produce random interference effects called "coherence speckle", which is a sort of graininess with dimensions on the order of the resolution, causing the concept of resolution to take on a subtly different meaning. This effect is the same as is apparent both visually and photographically in laser-illuminated optical scenes. The scale of that random speckle structure is governed by the size of the synthetic aperture in wavelengths, and cannot be finer than the system's resolution. Speckle structure can be subdued at the expense of resolution.

Before rapid digital computers were available, the data processing was done using an optical holography
Holography is a technique that allows the light scattered from an object to be recorded and later reconstructed so that when an imaging system is placed in the reconstructed beam, an image of the object will be seen even when the object is no longer present...

 technique. The analog radar data were recorded as a holographic interference pattern on photographic film at a scale permitting the film to preserve the signal bandwidths (for example, 1:1,000,000 for a radar using a 0.6-meter wavelength). Then light using, for example, 0.6-micrometer waves (as from a helium-neon laser
Helium-neon laser
A helium–neon laser or HeNe laser, is a type of gas laser whose gain medium consists of a mixture of helium and neon inside of a small bore capillary tube, usually excited by a DC electrical discharge.- History of HeNe laser development:...

) passing through the hologram could project a terrain image at a scale recordable on another film at reasonable processor focal distances of around a meter. This worked because both SAR and phased arrays are fundamentally similar to optical holography, but using microwaves instead of light waves. The "optical data-processors" developed for this radar purpose were the first effective analog optical computer systems, and were, in fact, devised before the holographic technique was fully adapted to optical imaging. Because of the different sources of range and across-range signal structures in the radar signals, optical data-processors for SAR included not only both spherical and cylindrical lenses, but sometimes conical ones.

Image appearance

The following considerations apply also to real-aperture terrain-imaging radars, but are more consequential when resolution in range is matched to a cross-beam resolution that is available only from a SAR.

The two dimensions of a radar image are range and cross-range. Radar images of limited patches of terrain can resemble oblique photographs, but not ones taken from the location of the radar. This is because the range coordinate in a radar image is perpendicular to the vertical-angle coordinate of an oblique photo. The apparent entrance-pupil
Entrance pupil
In an optical system, the entrance pupil is the optical image of the physical aperture stop, as 'seen' through the front of the lens system. The corresponding image of the aperture as seen through the back of the lens system is called the exit pupil...

 position (or camera center) for viewing such an image is therefore not as if at the radar, but as if at a point from which the viewer's line of sight is perpendicular to the slant-range direction connecting radar and target, with slant-range increasing from top to bottom of the image.

Because slant ranges to level terrain vary in vertical angle, each elevation of such terrain appears as a curved surface, specifically a hyperbolic cosine one. Verticals at various ranges are perpendiculars to those curves. The viewer’s apparent looking directions are parallel to the curve’s “hypcos” axis. Items directly beneath the radar appear as if optically viewed horizontally (i.e., from the side) and those at far ranges as if optically viewed from directly above. These curvatures are not evident unless large extents of near-range terrain, including steep slant ranges, are being viewed.

When viewed as specified above, fine-resolution radar images of small areas can appear most nearly like familiar optical ones, for two reasons. The first reason is easily understood by imagining a flagpole in the scene. The slant-range to its upper end is less than that to its base. Therefore the pole can appear correctly top-end up only when viewed in the above orientation. Secondly, the radar illumination then being downward, shadows are seen in their most-familiar "overhead-lighting" direction.

Note that the image of the pole’s top will overlay that of some terrain point which is on the same slant range arc but at a shorter horizontal range (“ground-range”). Images of scene surfaces which faced both the illumination and the apparent eyepoint will have geometries that resemble those of an optical scene viewed from that eyepoint. However, slopes facing the radar will be foreshortened and ones facing away from it will be lengthened from their horizontal (map) dimensions. The former will therefore be brightened and the latter dimmed.

Returns from slopes steeper than perpendicular to slant range will be overlaid on those of lower-elevation terrain at a nearer ground-range, both being visible but intermingled. This is especially the case for vertical surfaces like the walls of buildings. Another viewing inconvenience that arises when a surface is steeper than perpendicular to the slant range is that it is then illuminated on one face but “viewed” from the reverse face. Then one “sees”, for example, the radar-facing wall of a building as if from the inside, while the building’s interior and the rear wall (that nearest to, hence expected to be optically visible to, the viewer) have vanished, since they lack illumination, being in the shadow of the front wall and the roof. Some return from the roof may overlay that from the front wall, and both of those may overlay return from terrain in front of the building. The visible building shadow will include those of all illuminated items. Long shadows may exhibit blurred edges due to the illuminating antenna's movement during the "time exposure" needed to create the image.

Surfaces that we usually consider rough will, if that roughness consists of relief less than the radar wavelength, behave as smooth mirrors, showing, beyond such a surface, additional images of items in front of it. Those mirror images will appear within the shadow of the mirroring surface, sometimes filling the entire shadow, thus preventing recognition of the shadow.

An important fact that applies to SARs but not to real-aperture radars is that the direction of overlay of any scene point is not directly toward the radar, but toward that point of the SAR's current path direction that is nearest to the target point. If the SAR is "squinting" forward or aft away from the exactly broadside direction, then the illumination direction, and hence the shadow direction, will not be opposite to the overlay direction, but slanted to right or left from it. An image will appear with the correct projection geometry when viewed so that the overlay direction is vertical, the SAR's flight-path is above the image, and range increases somewhat downward.

Objects in motion within a SAR scene alter the Doppler frequencies of the returns. Such objects therefore appear in the image at locations offset in the across-range direction by amounts proportional to the range-direction component of their velocity. Road vehicles may be depicted off the roadway and therefore not recognized as road traffic items. Trains appearing away from their tracks are more easily properly recognized by their length parallel to known trackage as well as by the absence of an equal length of railbed signature and of some adjacent terrain, both having been shadowed by the train. While images of moving vessels can be offset from the line of the earlier parts of their wakes, the more recent parts of the wake, which still partake of some of the vessel's motion, appear as curves connecting the vessel image to the relatively quiescent far-aft wake. In such identifiable cases, speed and direction of the moving items can be determined from the amounts of their offsets. The along-track component of a target's motion causes some defocus. Random motions such as that of wind-driven tree foliage, vehicles driven over rough terrain, or humans or other animals walking or running generally render those items not focusable, resulting in blurring or even effective invisibility.

These considerations, along with the speckle structure due to coherence, take some getting used to in order to correctly interpret SAR images. To assist in that, large collections of significant target signatures have been accumulated by performing many test flights over known terrains and cultural objects.

Origin and early development (ca. 1950-1975)

Carl A. Wiley, a mathematician at Goodyear Aircraft Company in Litchfield Park
Litchfield Park
Litchfield Park can refer to:* Litchfield Park, Arizona; or* Litchfield National Park, Australia....

, Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

, invented synthetic-aperture radar in June 1951 while working on a correlation guidance system for the Atlas ICBM program. In early 1952, Wiley, together with Fred Heisley and Bill Welty, constructed a concept validation system known as DOUSER ("Doppler
Doppler radar
A Doppler radar is a specialized radar that makes use of the Doppler effect to produce velocity data about objects at a distance. It does this by beaming a microwave signal towards a desired target and listening for its reflection, then analyzing how the frequency of the returned signal has been...

 Unbeamed Search Radar"). During the 1950s and 1960s, Goodyear Aircraft (later Goodyear Aerospace) introduced numerous advancements in SAR technology.

Independently of Wiley's work, experimental trials in early 1952 by Sherwin and others at the University of Illinois' Control Systems Laboratory showed results that they pointed out "could provide the basis for radar systems with greatly improved angular resolution" and might even lead to systems capable of focusing at all ranges simultaneously.

In both of those programs, processing of the radar returns was done by electrical-circuit filtering methods. In essence, signal strength in isolated discrete bands of Doppler frequency defined image intensities that were displayed at matching angular positions within proper range locations. When only the central (zero-Doppler band) portion of the return signals was used, the effect was as if only that central part of the beam existed. That led to the term Doppler Beam Sharpening. Displaying returns from several adjacent non-zero Doppler frequency bands accomplished further “beam-subdividing” (sometimes called “unfocused radar,” though it could have been considered “semi-focused”). Wiley's patent, applied for in 1954, still proposed similar processing. The bulkiness of the circuitry then available limited the extent to which those schemes might further improve resolution.

The principle was included in a memorandum authored by Walter Hausz of General Electric that was part of the then-secret report of a 1952 Dept. of Defense summer study conference called TEOTA ("The Eyes of the Army"), which sought to identify new techniques useful for military reconnaissance and technical gathering of intelligence. A follow-on summer program in 1953 at the University of Michigan
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

, called Project Wolverine, identified several of the TEOTA subjects, including Doppler-assisted sub-beamwidth resolution, as research efforts to be sponsored by the Department of Defense (DoD) at various academic and industrial research laboratories. In that same year, the Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

 group produced a "strip-map" image exhibiting a considerable amount of sub-beamwidth resolution.

A more advanced focused-radar project was among several remote sensing schemes assigned in 1953 to Project Michigan, a tri-service-sponsored (Army, Navy, Air Force) program at the University of Michigan's Willow Run Research Center (WRRC), that program being administered by the Army Signal Corps. Initially called the side-looking radar project, it was carried out by a group first known as the Radar Laboratory and later as the Radar and Optics Laboratory. It proposed to take into account, not just the short-term existence of several particular Doppler shifts, but the entire history of the steadily varying shifts from each target as the latter crossed the beam. An early analysis by Dr. Louis J. Cutrona, Weston E. Vivian, and Emmett N. Leith
Emmett Leith
Emmett Leith was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan and, with Juris Upatnieks of the University of Michigan, the co-inventor of three-dimensional holography.Leith received his B.S. in physics from Wayne State University in 1949 and his M.S. in physics in 1952...

 of that group showed that such a fully focused system should yield, at all ranges, a resolution equal to the width (or, by some criteria, the half-width) of the real antenna carried on the radar aircraft and continually pointed broadside to the aircraft's path.

The required data processing amounted to calculating cross-correlations of the received signals with samples of the forms of signals to be expected from unit-amplitude sources at the various ranges. At that time, even large digital computers had capabilities somewhat near the levels of today's four-function handheld calculators, hence were nowhere near able to do such a huge amount of computation. Instead, the device for doing the correlation computations was to be an optical correlator.

It was proposed that signals received by the traveling antenna and coherently detected be displayed as a single range-trace line across the diameter of the face of a cathode-ray tube, the line's successive forms being recorded as images projected onto a film traveling perpendicular to the length of that line. The information on the developed film was to be subsequently processed in the laboratory on equipment still to be devised as a principal task of the project. In the initial processor proposal, an arrangement of lenses was expected to multiply the recorded signals point-by-point with the known signal forms by passing light successively through both the signal film and another film containing the known signal pattern. The subsequent summation, or integration, step of the correlation was to be done by converging appropriate sets of multiplication products by the focusing action of one or more spherical and cylindrical lenses. The processor was to be, in effect, an optical analog computer
Analog computer
An analog computer is a form of computer that uses the continuously-changeable aspects of physical phenomena such as electrical, mechanical, or hydraulic quantities to model the problem being solved...

 performing large-scale scalar arithmetic calculations in many channels (with many light "rays") at once. Ultimately, two such devices would be needed, their outputs to be combined as quadrature components of the complete solution.

Fortunately (as it turned out), a desire to keep the equipment small had led to recording the reference pattern on 35 mm film
35 mm film
35 mm film is the film gauge most commonly used for chemical still photography and motion pictures. The name of the gauge refers to the width of the photographic film, which consists of strips 35 millimeters in width...

. Trials promptly showed that the patterns on the film were so fine as to show pronounced diffraction effects that prevented sharp final focusing.

That led Leith, a physicist who was devising the correlator, to recognize that those effects in themselves could, by natural processes, perform a significant part of the needed processing, since along-track strips of the recording operated like diametrical slices of a series of circular optical zone plates. Any such plate performs somewhat like a lens, each plate having a specific focal length for any given wavelength. The recording that had been considered as scalar became recognized as pairs of opposite-sign vector ones of many spatial frequencies plus a zero-frequency “bias” quantity. The needed correlation summation changed from a pair of scalar ones to a single vector one.

Each zone plate strip has two equal but oppositely signed focal lengths, one real, where a beam through it converges to a focus, and one virtual, where another beam appears to have diverged from, beyond the other face of the zone plate. The zero-frequency (DC bias
DC bias
When describing a periodic function in the frequency domain, the DC bias, DC component, DC offset, or DC coefficient is the mean value of the waveform...

) component has no focal point, but overlays both the converging and diverging beams. The key to obtaining, from the converging wave component, focused images that are not overlaid with unwanted haze from the other two is to block the latter, allowing only the wanted beam to pass through a properly positioned frequency-band selecting aperture.

Each radar range yields a zone plate strip with a focal length proportional to that range. This fact became a principal complication in the design of optical processors. Consequently, technical journals of the time contain a large volume of material devoted to ways for coping with the variation of focus with range.

For that major change in approach, the light used had to be both monochromatic and coherent, properties that were already a requirement on the radar radiation. Laser
A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of photons. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation...

s also then being in the future, the best then-available approximation to a coherent light source was the output of a mercury vapor lamp, passed through a color filter that was matched to the lamp spectrum's green band, and then concentrated as well as possible onto a very small beam-limiting aperture. While the resulting amount of light was so weak that very long exposure times had to be used, a workable optical correlator was assembled in time to be used when appropriate data became available.

Although creating that radar was a more straight-forward task based on already-known techniques, that work did demand the achievement of signal linearity and frequency stability that were at the extreme state of the art. An adequate instrument was designed and built by the Radar Laboratory and was installed in a C-46 (Curtiss Commando) aircraft. Because the aircraft was bailed to WRRC by the U. S. Army and was flown and maintained by WRRC's own pilots and ground personnel, it was available for many flights at times matching the Radar Laboratory's needs, a feature important for allowing frequent re-testing and "debugging" of the continually developing complex equipment. By contrast, the Illinois group had used a C-46 belonging to the Air Force and flown by AF pilots only by pre-arrangement, resulting, in the eyes of those researchers, in limitation to a less-than-desirable frequency of flight tests of their equipment, hence a low bandwidth of feedback from tests. (Later work with newer Convair aircraft continued the Michigan group’s local control of flight schedules.)

Michigan's chosen 5 feet (1.5 m)-wide WWII-surplus antenna was theoretically capable of 5 feet (1.5 m) resolution, but data from only 10% of the beamwidth was used at first, the goal at that time being to demonstrate 50 feet (15.2 m) resolution. It was understood that finer resolution would require the added development of means for sensing departures of the aircraft from an ideal heading and flight path, and for using that information for making needed corrections to the antenna pointing and to the received signals before processing. After numerous trials in which even small atmospheric turbulence kept the aircraft from flying straight and level enough for good 50 feet (15.2 m) data, one pre-dawn flight in August 1957 yielded a map-like image of the Willow Run Airport area which did demonstrate 50 feet (15.2 m) resolution in some parts of the image, whereas the illuminated beam width there was 900 feet (274.3 m). Although the program had been considered for termination by DoD due to what had seemed to be a lack of results, that first success ensured further funding to continue development leading to solutions to those recognized needs.

The SAR principle was first acknowledged publicly via an April, 1960 press release about the U. S. Army experimental AN/UPD-1 system, which consisted of an airborne element made by Texas Instruments
Texas Instruments
Texas Instruments Inc. , widely known as TI, is an American company based in Dallas, Texas, United States, which develops and commercializes semiconductor and computer technology...

 and installed in a Beech L-23D aircraft and a mobile ground data-processing station made by WRRC and installed in a military van. At the time, the nature of the data processor was not revealed. A technical article in the journal of the IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers
Institute of Radio Engineers
The Institute of Radio Engineers was a professional organization which existed from 1912 until January 1, 1963, when it merged with the American Institute of Electrical Engineers to form the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers .-Founding:Following several attempts to form a...

) Professional Group on Military Electronics in February 1961 described the SAR principle and both the C-46 and AN/UPD-1 versions, but did not tell how the data were processed, nor that the UPD-1's maximum resolution capability was about 50 feet (15.2 m). However, the June 1960 issue of the IRE Professional Group on Information Theory had contained a long article on "Optical Data Processing and Filtering Systems" by members of the Michigan group. Although it did not refer to the use of those techniques for radar, readers of both journals could quite easily understand the existence of a connection between articles sharing some authors.

An operational system to be carried in a reconnaissance version of the F-4 "Phantom" aircraft was quickly devised and was used briefly in Vietnam, where it failed to favorably impress its users, due to the combination of its low resolution (similar to the UPD-1's), the speckly nature of its coherent-wave images (similar to the speckliness of laser images), and the poorly understood dissimilarity of its range/cross-range images from the angle/angle optical ones familiar to military photo interpreters. The lessons it provided were well learned by subsequent researchers, operational system designers, image-interpreter trainers, and the DoD sponsors of further development and acquisition.

In subsequent work the technique's latent capability was eventually achieved. That work, depending on advanced radar circuit designs and precision sensing of departures from ideal straight flight, along with more sophisticated optical processors using laser light sources and specially designed very large lenses made from remarkably clear glass, allowed the Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

 group to advance system resolution, at about 5-year intervals, first to 15 feet (4.6 m), then 5 feet (1.5 m), and, by the mid-1970s, to 1 foot (the latter only over very short range intervals while processing was still being done optically). The latter levels and the associated very wide dynamic range proved suitable for identifying many objects of military concern as well as soil, water, vegetation, and ice features being studied by a variety of environmental researchers having security clearances allowing them access to what was then classified imagery. Similarly improved operational systems soon followed each of those finer-resolution steps.

Even the 5 feet (1.5 m) resolution stage had over-taxed the ability of cathode-ray tubes (limited to about 2000 distinguishable items across the screen diameter) to deliver fine enough details to signal films while still covering wide range swaths, and taxed the optical processing systems in similar ways. However, at about the same time, digital computers finally became capable of doing the processing without similar limitation, and the consequent presentation of the images on cathode ray tube monitors instead of film allowed for better control over tonal reproduction and for more convenient image mensuration.

Achievement of the finest resolutions at long ranges was aided by adding the capability to swing a larger airborne antenna so as to more strongly illuminate a limited target area continually while collecting data over several degrees of aspect, removing the previous limitation of resolution to the antenna width. This was referred to as the spotlight mode, which no longer produced continuous-swath images but, instead, images of isolated patches of terrain.

It was understood very early in SAR development that the extremely smooth orbital path of an out-of-the-atmosphere platform made it ideally suited to SAR operation. Early experience with artificial earth satellites had also demonstrated that the Doppler frequency shifts of signals traveling through the ionosphere and atmosphere were stable enough to permit very fine resolution to be achievable even at ranges of hundreds of kilometers. While experimental verification of those facts (still classified after nearly half a century) occurred within the second decade after the initial work began, several of the capabilities for creating useful classified systems did not exist for another two decades.

That seemingly slow rate of advances was often paced by the progress of other inventions, such as the laser, the digital computer, circuit miniaturization, and compact data storage. Once the laser appeared, optical data processing became a fast process because it provided many parallel analog channels, but devising optical chains suited to matching signal focal lengths to ranges proceeded by many stages and turned out to call for some novel optical components. Since the process depended on diffraction of light waves, it required anti-vibration mountings, clean rooms, and highly trained operators. Even at its best, its use of CRTs and film for data storage placed limits on the range depth of images.

At several stages, attaining the frequently over-optimistic expectations for digital computation equipment proved to take far longer than anticipated. For example, the SEASAT
SEASAT was the first Earth-orbiting satellite designed for remote sensing of the Earth's oceans and had on board the first spaceborne synthetic aperture radar . The mission was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of global satellite monitoring of oceanographic phenomena and to help determine...

 system was ready to orbit before its digital processor became available, so a quickly assembled optical recording and processing scheme had to be used to obtain timely confirmation of system operation. In 1978, the first digital SAR processor was developed by the Canadian aerospace company MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA)
MacDonald Dettwiler
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. is a Richmond, British Columbia-based Canadian aerospace, information services and products company, employing over 3000 people throughout Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, under the MDA brand name....

. When its digital processor was finally completed and used, the digital equipment of that time took many hours to create one swath of image from each run of a few seconds of data. Still, while that was a step down in speed, it was a step up in image quality. Modern methods now provide both high speed and high quality.

Although the above specifies the system development contributions of only a few organizations, many other groups had also become players as the value of SAR became more and more apparent. Especially crucial to the organization and funding of the initial long development process was the technical expertise and foresight of a number of both civilian and uniformed project managers in equipment procurement agencies in the federal government, particularly, of course, ones in the armed forces and in the intelligence agencies, and also in some civilian space agencies.


The SAR algorithm, as given here, applies to phased arrays generally.

A three-dimensional array (a volume) of scene elements is defined which will represent the volume of space within which targets exist. Each element of the array is a cubical voxel
A voxel is a volume element, representing a value on a regular grid in three dimensional space. This is analogous to a pixel, which represents 2D image data in a bitmap...

 representing the probability (a "density") of a reflective surface being at that location in space. (Note that two-dimensional SARs are also possible—showing only a top-down view of the target area).

Initially, the SAR algorithm gives each voxel a density of zero.

Then, for each captured waveform, the entire volume is iterated. For a given waveform and voxel, the distance from the position represented by that voxel to the antenna(e) used to capture that waveform is calculated. That distance represents a time delay into the waveform. The sample value at that position in the waveform is then added to the voxel's density value. This represents a possible echo from a target at that position. Note that there are several optional approaches here, depending on the precision of the waveform timing, among other things. For example, if phase cannot be accurately known, then only the envelope magnitude (with the help of a Hilbert transform
Hilbert transform
In mathematics and in signal processing, the Hilbert transform is a linear operator which takes a function, u, and produces a function, H, with the same domain. The Hilbert transform is named after David Hilbert, who first introduced the operator in order to solve a special case of the...

) of the waveform sample might be added to the voxel. If polarization and phase are known in the waveform, and are accurate enough, then these values might be added to a more complex voxel that holds such measurements separately.

After all waveforms have been iterated over all voxels, the basic SAR processing is complete.

What remains, in the simplest approach, is to decide what voxel density value represents a solid object. Voxels whose density is below that threshold are ignored. Note that the threshold level chosen must at least be higher than the peak energy of any single wave—otherwise that wave peak would appear as a sphere (or ellipse, in the case of multistatic operation) of false "density" across the entire volume. Thus to detect a point on a target, there must be at least two different antenna echoes from that point. Consequently, there is a need for large numbers of antenna positions to properly characterize a target.

The voxels that passed the threshold criteria are visualized in 2D or 3D. Optionally, added visual quality can sometimes be had by use of a surface detection algorithm like marching cubes
Marching cubes
Marching cubes is a computer graphics algorithm, published in the 1987 SIGGRAPH proceedings by Lorensen and Cline, for extracting a polygonal mesh of an isosurface from a three-dimensional scalar field...


More complex operation

The basic design of a synthetic-aperture radar system can be enhanced to collect more information. Most of these methods use the same basic principle of combining many pulses to form a synthetic aperture, but may involve additional antennae or significant additional processing.

Multistatic operation

SAR requires that echo captures be taken at multiple antenna positions. The more captures taken (at different antenna locations) the more reliable the target characterization.

Multiple captures can be obtained by moving a single antenna to different locations, by placing multiple stationary antennae at different locations, or combinations thereof.

The advantage of a single moving antenna is that it can be easily placed in any number of positions to provide any number of monostatic waveforms. For example, an antenna mounted on an airplane takes many captures per second as the plane travels.

The principal advantages of multiple static antennae are that a moving target can be characterized (assuming the capture electronics are fast enough), that no vehicle or motion machinery is necessary, and that antenna positions need not be derived from other, sometimes unreliable, information. (One problem with SAR aboard an airplane is knowing precise antenna positions as the plane travels).

For multiple static antennae, all combinations of monostatic and multistatic radar
Multistatic radar
A multistatic radar system contains multiple spatially diverse monostatic radar or bistatic radar components with a shared area of coverage. An important distinction systems based on these individual radar geometries is the added requirement for some level of data fusion to take place between...

 waveform captures are possible. Note, however, that it is not advantageous to capture a waveform for each of both transmission directions for a given pair of antennae, because those waveforms will be identical. When multiple static antennae are used, the total number of unique echo waveforms that can be captured is

where N is the number of unique antenna positions.


Radar waves have a polarization. Different materials reflect radar waves with different intensities, but anisotropic materials such as grass often reflect different polarizations with different intensities. Some materials will also convert one polarization into another. By emitting a mixture of polarizations and using receiving antennae with a specific polarization, several different images can be collected from the same series of pulses. Frequently three such RX-TX polarizations (HH-pol, VV-pol, VH-pol) are used as the three color channels in a synthesized image. This is what has been done in the picture at left. Interpretation of the resulting colors requires significant testing of known materials.

New developments in polarimetry also include utilizing the changes in the random polarization returns of some surfaces (such as grass or sand), between two images of the same location at different points in time to determine where changes not visible to optical systems occurred. Examples include subterranean tunneling, or paths of vehicles driving through the area being imaged.
Enhanced SAR sea oil slick observation it has been developed by appropriate physical modelling and use of fully polarimetric and dual-polarimetric measurements.


Rather than discarding the phase data, information can be extracted from it. If two observations of the same terrain from very similar positions are available, aperture synthesis
Aperture synthesis
Aperture synthesis or synthesis imaging is a type of interferometry that mixes signals from a collection of telescopes to produce images having the same angular resolution as an instrument the size of the entire collection...

 can be performed to provide the resolution performance which would be given by a RADAR system with dimensions equal to the separation of the two measurements. This technique is called Interferometric SAR or InSAR.

If the two samples are obtained simultaneously (perhaps by placing two antennas on the same aircraft, some distance apart), then any phase difference will contain information about the angle from which the radar echo returned. Combining this with the distance information, one can determine the position in three dimensions of the image pixel. In other words, one can extract terrain altitude as well as radar reflectivity, producing a digital elevation model
Digital elevation model
A digital elevation model is a digital model or 3-D representation of a terrain's surface — commonly for a planet , moon, or asteroid — created from terrain elevation data....

 (DEM) with a single airplane pass. One aircraft application at the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing
Canada Centre for Remote Sensing
The Canada Centre for Remote Sensing is a branch of Natural Resources Canada's Earth Science Sector. It was created in 1970 with Lawrence Morley as the first Director General...

 produced digital elevation maps with a resolution of 5 m and altitude errors also on the order of 5 m. Interferometry was used to map many regions of the Earth's surface with unprecedented accuracy using data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission
Shuttle Radar Topography Mission
The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission is an international research effort that obtained digital elevation models on a near-global scale from 56° S to 60° N, to generate the most complete high-resolution digital topographic database of Earth prior to the release of the ASTER GDEM in 2009...


If the two samples are separated in time, perhaps from two different flights over the same terrain, then there are two possible sources of phase shift. The first is terrain altitude, as discussed above. The second is terrain motion: if the terrain has shifted between observations, it will return a different phase. The amount of shift required to cause a significant phase difference is on the order of the wavelength used. This means that if the terrain shifts by centimeters, it can be seen in the resulting image (A digital elevation map must be available in order to separate the two kinds of phase difference; a third pass may be necessary in order to produce one).

This second method offers a powerful tool in geology
Geology is the science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which it evolves. Geology gives insight into the history of the Earth, as it provides the primary evidence for plate tectonics, the evolutionary history of life, and past climates...

 and geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

. Glacier
A glacier is a large persistent body of ice that forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation over many years, often centuries. At least 0.1 km² in area and 50 m thick, but often much larger, a glacier slowly deforms and flows due to stresses induced by its weight...

 flow can be mapped with two passes. Maps showing the land deformation after a minor earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

 or after a volcanic eruption (showing the shrinkage of the whole volcano by several centimeters) have been published.

Differential interferometry

Differential interferometry (D-InSAR) requires taking at least two images with addition of a DEM. The DEM can be either produced by GPS measurements or could be generated by interferometry as long as the time between acquisition of the image pairs is short, which guarantees minimal distortion of the image of the target surface. In principle, 3 images of the ground area with similar image acquisition geometry is often adequate for D-InSar. The principle for detecting ground movement is quite simple. One interferogram is created from the first two images; this is also called the reference interferogram or topographical interferogram. A second interferogram is created that captures topography + distortion. Subtracting the latter from the reference interferogram can reveal differential fringes, indicating movement. The described 3 image D-InSAR generation technique is called 3-pass or double-difference method.

Differential fringes which remain as fringes in the differential interferogram are a result of SAR range changes of any displaced point on the ground from one interferogram to the next. In the differential interferogram, each fringe is directly proportional to the SAR wavelength, which is about 5.6 cm for ERS and RADARSAT single phase cycle. Surface displacement away from the satellite look direction causes an increase in path (translating to phase) difference. Since the signal travels from the SAR antenna to target and back again, the measured displacement is twice the unit of wavelength. This means in differential interferometry one fringe cycle -pi to +pi or one wavelength corresponds to a displacement relative to SAR antenna of only half wavelength (2.8 cm). There are various publications on measuring subsidence movement, slope stability analysis, landslide, glacier movement, etc. tooling D-InSAR. Further advancement to this technique whereby differential interferometry from satellite SAR ascending pass and descending pass can be used to estimate 3-D ground movement. Research in this area has shown accurate measurements of 3-D ground movement with accuracies comparable to GPS based measurements can be achieved.

Ultra-wideband SAR

Conventional radar systems emit bursts of radio energy with a fairly narrow range of frequencies. A narrow-band channel, by definition, does not allow rapid changes in modulation. Since it is the change in a received signal that reveals the time of arrival of the signal (obviously an unchanging signal would reveal nothing about "when" it reflected from the target), a signal with only a slow change in modulation cannot reveal the distance to the target as well as can a signal with a quick change in modulation.

Ultra-wideband is a radio technology that can be used at very low energy levels for short-range high-bandwidth communications by using a large portion of the radio spectrum. UWB has traditional applications in non-cooperative radar imaging...

 (UWB) refers to any radio transmission that uses a very large bandwidth – which is the same as saying it uses very rapid changes in modulation. Although there is no set bandwidth value that qualifies a signal as "UWB", systems using bandwidths greater than a sizable portion of the center frequency (typically about ten percent, or so) are most often called "UWB" systems. A typical UWB system might use a bandwidth of one-third to one-half of its center frequency. For example, some systems use a bandwidth of about 1 GHz centered around 3 GHz.

There are as many ways to increase the bandwidth of a signal as there are forms of modulation – it is simply a matter of increasing the rate of that modulation. However, the two most common methods used in UWB radar, including SAR, are very short pulses and high-bandwidth chirping. A general description of chirping appears elsewhere in this article. The bandwidth of a chirped system can be as narrow or as wide as the designers desire. Pulse-based UWB systems, being the more common method associated with the term "UWB radar", are described here.

A pulse-based radar system transmits very short pulses of electromagnetic energy, typically only a few waves or less. A very short pulse is, of course, a very rapidly changing signal, and thus occupies a very wide bandwidth. This allows far more accurate measurement of distance, and thus resolution.

The main disadvantage of pulse-based UWB SAR is that the transmitting and receiving front-end electronics are difficult to design for high-power applications. Specifically, the transmit duty cycle is so exceptionally low and pulse time so exceptionally short, that the electronics must be capable of extremely high instantaneous power to rival the average power of conventional radars. (Although it is true that UWB provides a notable gain in channel capacity
Channel capacity
In electrical engineering, computer science and information theory, channel capacity is the tightest upper bound on the amount of information that can be reliably transmitted over a communications channel...

 over a narrow band signal because of the relationship of bandwidth in the Shannon–Hartley theorem
Shannon–Hartley theorem
In information theory, the Shannon–Hartley theorem tells the maximum rate at which information can be transmitted over a communications channel of a specified bandwidth in the presence of noise. It is an application of the noisy channel coding theorem to the archetypal case of a continuous-time...

 and because the low receive duty cycle receives less noise, increasing the signal-to-noise ratio
Signal-to-noise ratio
Signal-to-noise ratio is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. It is defined as the ratio of signal power to the noise power. A ratio higher than 1:1 indicates more signal than noise...

, there is still a notable disparity in link budget because conventional radar might be several orders of magnitude more powerful than a typical pulse-based radar.) So pulse-based UWB SAR is typically used in applications requiring average power levels in the microwatt or milliwatt range, and thus is used for scanning smaller, nearer target areas (several tens of meters), or in cases where lengthy integration (over a span of minutes) of the received signal is possible. Note, however, that this limitation is solved in chirped UWB radar systems.

The principal advantages of UWB radar are better resolution (a few millimeters using commercial off-the-shelf
Commercial off-the-shelf
In the United States, Commercially available Off-The-Shelf is a Federal Acquisition Regulation term defining a nondevelopmental item of supply that is both commercial and sold in substantial quantities in the commercial marketplace, and that can be procured or utilized under government contract...

 electronics) and more spectral information of target reflectivity.

Doppler-beam sharpening

Doppler Beam Sharpening commonly refers to the method of processing unfocused real-beam phase history to achieve better resolution than could be achieved by processing the real beam without it. Because the real aperture of the RADAR antenna is so small (compared to the wavelength in use), the RADAR energy spreads over a wide area (usually many degrees wide in a direction orthogonal (at right angles) to the direction of the platform (aircraft). Doppler-beam sharpening takes advantage of the motion of the platform in that targets ahead of the platform return a Doppler upshifted signal (slightly higher in frequency) and targets behind the platform return a Doppler downshifted signal (slightly lower in frequency).

The amount of shift varies with the angle forward or backward from the ortho-normal direction. By knowing the speed of the platform, target signal return is placed in a specific angle "bin" that changes over time. Signals are integrated over time and thus the RADAR "beam" is synthetically reduced to a much smaller aperture – or more accurately (and based on the ability to distinguish smaller Doppler shifts) the system can have hundreds of very "tight" beams concurrently. This technique dramatically improves angular resolution; however, it is far more difficult to take advantage of this technique for range resolution.
(See Pulse-doppler radar
Pulse-doppler radar
Pulse-Doppler is a 4D radar system capable of detecting both target 3D location as well as measuring radial velocity . It uses the Doppler effect to avoid overloading computers and operators as well as to reduce power consumption...


Chirped (pulse-compressed) radars

A common technique for many radar systems (usually also found in SAR systems) is to "chirp
A chirp is a signal in which the frequency increases or decreases with time. In some sources, the term chirp is used interchangeably with sweep signal. It is commonly used in sonar and radar, but has other applications, such as in spread spectrum communications...

" the signal. In a "chirped" radar, the pulse is allowed to be much longer. A longer pulse allows more energy to be emitted, and hence received, but usually hinders range resolution. But in a chirped radar, this longer pulse also has a frequency shift during the pulse (hence the chirp or frequency shift). When the "chirped" signal is returned, it must be correlated with the sent pulse. Classically, in analog systems, it is passed to a dispersive delay line (often a SAW
Surface acoustic wave
]A surface acoustic wave is an acoustic wave traveling along the surface of a material exhibiting elasticity, with an amplitude that typically decays exponentially with depth into the substrate.-Discovery:...

 device) that has the property of varying velocity of propagation based on frequency. This technique "compresses" the pulse in time – thus having the effect of a much shorter pulse (improved range resolution) while having the benefit of longer pulse length (much more signal returned). Newer systems use digital pulse correlation to find the pulse return in the signal.

Data collection

Highly accurate data can be collected by aircraft overflying the terrain in question. In the 1980s, as a prototype for instruments to be flown on the NASA Space Shuttles, NASA operated a synthetic-aperture radar on a NASA Convair 990
Convair 990
The Convair 990 Coronado was a narrow-body jet airliner produced by the Convair division of General Dynamics, a "stretched" version of their earlier Convair 880 produced in response to a request from American Airlines. The 990 was lengthened by 10 feet, which increased the number of passengers from...

. However, in 1986, this plane caught fire on takeoff. In 1988, NASA rebuilt a C, L, and P-band SAR to fly on the NASA DC-8
Douglas DC-8
The Douglas DC-8 is a four-engined narrow-body passenger commercial jet airliner, manufactured from 1958 to 1972 by the Douglas Aircraft Company...

 aircraft. Called AIRSAR, it flew missions at sites around the world until 2004. Another such aircraft, the Convair 580
Convair 240
The Convair CV-240 was an American airliner produced by Convair from 1947 to 1954, initially as a possible replacement of the ubiquitous Douglas DC-3. While featuring a more modern design, the 240 series was able to make some inroads as a commercial airliner and also had a long development cycle...

, was flown by the Canada Center for Remote Sensing until about 1996 when it was handed over to Environment Canada due to budgetary reasons. Most land-surveying applications are now carried out by satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

 observation. Satellites such as ERS-1/2, JERS-1
Japanese Earth Resources Satellite 1 was a satellite launched in 1992 by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency...

, Envisat
Envisat is an Earth-observing satellite. It was launched on 1 March 2002 aboard an Ariane 5 from the Guyana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guyana into a Sun synchronous polar orbit at an altitude of...

Radarsat-1 is Canada's first commercial Earth observation satellite.-Mission:It was launched at 14h22 UTC on November 4, 1995 from Vandenberg AFB in California, into a sun-synchronous orbit above the Earth with an altitude of 798 kilometers and inclination of 98.6 degrees...

 were launched explicitly to carry out this sort of observation. Their capabilities differ, particularly in their support for interferometry, but all have collected tremendous amounts of valuable data. The Space Shuttle
Space Shuttle
The Space Shuttle was a manned orbital rocket and spacecraft system operated by NASA on 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The system combined rocket launch, orbital spacecraft, and re-entry spaceplane with modular add-ons...

 has also carried synthetic-aperture radar equipment during the SIR-A and SIR-B missions during the 1980s, as well as the Shuttle Radar Laboratory (SRL) missions in 1994 and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission
Shuttle Radar Topography Mission
The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission is an international research effort that obtained digital elevation models on a near-global scale from 56° S to 60° N, to generate the most complete high-resolution digital topographic database of Earth prior to the release of the ASTER GDEM in 2009...

 in 2000.

The Venera 15
Venera 15
Venera 15 was a spacecraft sent to Venus by the Soviet Union. This unmanned orbiter was to map the surface of Venus using high resolution imaging systems...

 and Venera 16
Venera 16
Venera 16 was a spacecraft sent to Venus by the Soviet Union. This unmanned orbiter was to map the surface of Venus using high resolution imaging systems...

 followed later by the Magellan
Magellan probe
The Magellan spacecraft, also referred to as the Venus Radar Mapper, was a 1,035-kilogram robotic space probe launched by NASA on May 4, 1989, to map the surface of Venus using Synthetic Aperture Radar and measure the planetary gravity...

 space probe mapped the surface of Venus over several years using synthetic-aperture radar.

Synthetic-aperture radar was first used by NASA on JPL's Seasat
SEASAT was the first Earth-orbiting satellite designed for remote sensing of the Earth's oceans and had on board the first spaceborne synthetic aperture radar . The mission was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of global satellite monitoring of oceanographic phenomena and to help determine...

 oceanographic satellite in 1978 (this mission also carried an altimeter
An altimeter is an instrument used to measure the altitude of an object above a fixed level. The measurement of altitude is called altimetry, which is related to the term bathymetry, the measurement of depth underwater.-Pressure altimeter:...

 and a scatterometer
A radar scatterometer is designed to determine the normalized radar cross section of the surface. Scatterometers operate by transmitting a pulse of microwave energy towards the Earth's surface and measuring the reflected energy. A separate measurement of the noise-only power is made and...

); it was later developed more extensively on the Spaceborne Imaging Radar (SIR) missions on the space shuttle in 1981, 1984 and 1994. The Cassini
Cassini–Huygens is a joint NASA/ESA/ASI spacecraft mission studying the planet Saturn and its many natural satellites since 2004. Launched in 1997 after nearly two decades of gestation, it includes a Saturn orbiter and an atmospheric probe/lander for the moon Titan, although it has also returned...

 mission to Saturn
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in the Solar System, after Jupiter. Saturn is named after the Roman god Saturn, equated to the Greek Cronus , the Babylonian Ninurta and the Hindu Shani. Saturn's astronomical symbol represents the Roman god's sickle.Saturn,...

 is currently using SAR to map the surface of the planet's major moon Titan
Titan (moon)
Titan , or Saturn VI, is the largest moon of Saturn, the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere, and the only object other than Earth for which clear evidence of stable bodies of surface liquid has been found....

, whose surface is partly hidden from direct optical inspection by atmospheric haze. The SHARAD
SHARAD is a subsurface sounding radar embarked on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe. It complements the MARSIS instrument on Mars Express, providing lower penetration capabilities but much finer resolution .SHARAD is developed under the responsibility of the Italian Space Agency SHARAD (Mars...

 sounding radar on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a NASA multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and Exploration of Mars from orbit...

MARSIS is a low frequency, pulse-limited radar sounder and altimeter used on the ESA Mars Express mission...

 instrument on Mars Express
Mars Express
Mars Express is a space exploration mission being conducted by the European Space Agency . The Mars Express mission is exploring the planet Mars, and is the first planetary mission attempted by the agency. "Express" originally referred to the speed and efficiency with which the spacecraft was...

 have observed bedrock beneath the surface of the Mars polar ice and also indicated the likelihood of substantial water ice in the Martian middle latitudes. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
The Lunar Precursor Robotic Program is a program of robotic spacecraft missions which NASA will use to prepare for future human spaceflight missions to the Moon. Two LPRP missions, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite , were launched in June 2009...

, launched in 2009, carries a SAR instrument called Mini-RF
The Miniature Radio-Frequency instrument is a synthetic aperture radar instrument on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter , which is currently in orbit around the Moon. It has a resolution of 30 m/pixel and two wavelength bands, a primary band at 12.6 cm and a secondary band at 4.2 cm...

, which was designed largely to look for water ice deposits on the poles of the Moon.

The Mineseeker Project ( is designing a system for determining whether regions contain landmines
Land mine
A land mine is usually a weight-triggered explosive device which is intended to damage a target—either human or inanimate—by means of a blast and/or fragment impact....

 based on a blimp
A blimp, or non-rigid airship, is a floating airship without an internal supporting framework or keel. A non-rigid airship differs from a semi-rigid airship and a rigid airship in that it does not have any rigid structure, neither a complete framework nor a partial keel, to help the airbag...

 carrying ultra-wideband synthetic-aperture radar. Initial trials show promise; the radar is able to detect even buried plastic mines.

SAR has been used in radio astronomy
Radio astronomy
Radio astronomy is a subfield of astronomy that studies celestial objects at radio frequencies. The initial detection of radio waves from an astronomical object was made in the 1930s, when Karl Jansky observed radiation coming from the Milky Way. Subsequent observations have identified a number of...

 for many years to simulate a large radio telescope by combining observations taken from multiple locations using a mobile antenna.

The National Reconnaissance Office
National Reconnaissance Office
The National Reconnaissance Office , located in Chantilly, Virginia, is one of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. It designs, builds, and operates the spy satellites of the United States government.-Mission:...

 maintains a fleet of (now declassified) synthetic-aperture radar satellites commonly designated as Lacrosse or Onyx
Lacrosse (satellite)
For the 2009 Lunar Impactor Mission designed to crash into the moon, see LCROSS.Lacrosse and Onyx are the code names for the United States' National Reconnaissance Office terrestrial radar imaging reconnaissance satellite. While not officially confirmed by the NRO or anybody in the U.S...


In February 2009, the Sentinel R1
Raytheon Sentinel
|-See also:-References:* Winchester, Jim. "Aircraft of the RAF Part 5 - Raytheon Sentinel R1". Air International, Volume 75 No.3, September 2008. pp.54-57.-External links:* * * *...

 surveillance aircraft entered service in the RAF, equipped with the SAR-based Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR
Raytheon Sentinel
|-See also:-References:* Winchester, Jim. "Aircraft of the RAF Part 5 - Raytheon Sentinel R1". Air International, Volume 75 No.3, September 2008. pp.54-57.-External links:* * * *...

) system.

The German Armed Forces' (Bundeswehr
The Bundeswehr consists of the unified armed forces of Germany and their civil administration and procurement authorities...

) military SAR-Lupe
SAR-Lupe is Germany's first reconnaissance satellite system and is used for military purposes. SAR is an abbreviation for synthetic aperture radar and "Lupe" is German for magnifying glass...

 reconnaissance satellite system has been fully operational since July 22, 2008.

See also

  • Radar MASINT
    Radar MASINT
    Radar MASINT is one of the subdisciplines of Measurement and Signature Intelligence and refers to intelligence gathering activities that bring together disparate elements that do not fit within the definitions of Signals Intelligence , Imagery Intelligence , or Human Intelligence...

  • TerraSAR-X
    TerraSAR-X, a German Earth observation satellite, is a joint venture being carried out under a public-private-partnership between the German Aerospace Center DLR and EADS Astrium GmbH; the exclusive commercial exploitation rights are held by the geo-information service provider Infoterra GmbH....

  • SAR Lupe
  • Remote sensing
    Remote sensing
    Remote sensing is the acquisition of information about an object or phenomenon, without making physical contact with the object. In modern usage, the term generally refers to the use of aerial sensor technologies to detect and classify objects on Earth by means of propagated signals Remote sensing...

  • Earth observation satellite
    Earth observation satellite
    Earth observation satellites are satellites specifically designed to observe Earth from orbit, similar to reconnaissance satellites but intended for non-military uses such as environmental monitoring, meteorology, map making etc....

  • Magellan
    Magellan probe
    The Magellan spacecraft, also referred to as the Venus Radar Mapper, was a 1,035-kilogram robotic space probe launched by NASA on May 4, 1989, to map the surface of Venus using Synthetic Aperture Radar and measure the planetary gravity...

     space probe
  • Inverse synthetic aperture radar
    Inverse synthetic aperture radar
    Inverse synthetic aperture radar is a technique to generate a two-dimensional high resolution image of a target.ISAR technology utilizes the movement of the target rather than the emitter to create the synthetic aperture...

  • Aperture synthesis
    Aperture synthesis
    Aperture synthesis or synthesis imaging is a type of interferometry that mixes signals from a collection of telescopes to produce images having the same angular resolution as an instrument the size of the entire collection...

  • Synthetic aperture sonar
    Synthetic aperture sonar
    Synthetic aperture sonar is a form of sonar in which sophisticated post-processing of sonar data are used in ways closely analogous to synthetic aperture radar. Synthetic aperture sonars combine a number of acoustic pings to form an image with much higher resolution than conventional sonars,...

  • Synthetically thinned aperture radar
    Synthetically thinned aperture radar
    Synthetic Thinned Aperture Radiometry is a method of radar in which the coherent product of the signal from pairs of antennas is measured at different antenna-pair spacings . These products yield sample points in the Fourier transform of the brightness temperature map of the scene, and the scene...

  • Beamforming
    Beamforming is a signal processing technique used in sensor arrays for directional signal transmission or reception. This is achieved by combining elements in the array in a way where signals at particular angles experience constructive interference and while others experience destructive...

  • Very Long Baseline Interferometry
    Very Long Baseline Interferometry
    Very Long Baseline Interferometry is a type of astronomical interferometry used in radio astronomy. It allows observations of an object that are made simultaneously by many telescopes to be combined, emulating a telescope with a size equal to the maximum separation between the telescopes.Data...

  • Interferometric synthetic aperture radar
    Interferometric synthetic aperture radar
    Interferometric synthetic aperture radar, also abbreviated InSAR or IfSAR, is a radar technique used in geodesy and remote sensing. This geodetic method uses two or more synthetic aperture radar images to generate maps of surface deformation or digital elevation, using differences in the phase of...

  • speckle noise
    Speckle noise
    Speckle noise is a granular noise that inherently exists in and degrades the quality of the active radar and synthetic aperture radar images....

  • Seasat
    SEASAT was the first Earth-orbiting satellite designed for remote sensing of the Earth's oceans and had on board the first spaceborne synthetic aperture radar . The mission was designed to demonstrate the feasibility of global satellite monitoring of oceanographic phenomena and to help determine...

Further reading

  • The first and definitive monograph on SAR is Synthetic Aperture Radar: Systems and Signal Processing (Wiley Series in Remote Sensing and Image Processing) by John C. Curlander and Robert N. McDonough
  • The development of synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) is examined in Gart, Jason H. "Electronics and Aerospace Industry in Cold War Arizona, 1945-1968: Motorola, Hughes Aircraft, Goodyear Aircraft." Phd diss., Arizona State University, 2006.

External links

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