Synthetic aperture radar
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Synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) is a form of radar 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).
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
A technique closely related to SAR uses an array (referred to as a "phased array") of real antenna elements spatially distributed over either one or two dimensions perpendicular to the radar-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 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, 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.
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[clarification needed], diffraction 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 (320 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 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 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) 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.
|It has been suggested that portions of this section be moved into Radar image. (Discuss)|
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 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, Arizona, 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 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, 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 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 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 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. 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) 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. Lasers 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 straightforward 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-foot (1.5 m)-wide WWII-surplus antenna was theoretically capable of 5-foot (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-foot (15 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-foot (15 m) data, one pre-dawn flight in August 1957 yielded a map-like image of the Willow Run Airport area which did demonstrate 50-foot (15 m) resolution in some parts of the image, whereas the illuminated beam width there was 900 feet (270 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 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) 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 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 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-foot (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 by a project now referred to as the Quill satellite  (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 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). 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.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (September 2009)|
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 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) 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.
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.
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 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 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 include using the changes in the random polarization returns of some surfaces (such as grass or sand) and between two images of the same location at different times 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 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 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 (DEM) with a single airplane pass. One aircraft application at the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing 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.
If the two samples are separated in time, perhaps from two 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 to separate the two kinds of phase difference; a third pass may be necessary to produce one).
This second method offers a powerful tool in geology and geography. Glacier flow can be mapped with two passes. Maps showing the land deformation after a minor earthquake or after a volcanic eruption (showing the shrinkage of the whole volcano by several centimeters) have been published.
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 the target and back again, the measured displacement is twice the unit of wavelength. This means in differential interferometry one fringe cycle −π to +π 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.
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 (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 over a narrow band signal because of the relationship of bandwidth in the Shannon–Hartley theorem and because the low receive duty cycle receives less noise, increasing the signal-to-noise ratio, 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 electronics) and more spectral information of target reflectivity.
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).
Chirped (pulse-compressed) radars
A common technique for many radar systems (usually also found in SAR systems) is to "chirp" 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 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.
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. 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 aircraft. Called AIRSAR, it flew missions at sites around the world until 2004. Another such aircraft, the Convair 580, 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 observation. Satellites such as ERS-1/2, JERS-1, Envisat ASAR, and RADARSAT-1 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 also carried synthetic-aperture radar equipment during the SIR-A and SIR-B missions during the 1980s, the Shuttle Radar Laboratory (SRL) missions in 1994 and the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission in 2000.
Synthetic-aperture radar was first used by NASA on JPL's Seasat oceanographic satellite in 1978 (this mission also carried an altimeter and a scatterometer); it was later developed more extensively on the Spaceborne Imaging Radar (SIR) missions on the space shuttle in 1981, 1984 and 1994. The Cassini mission to Saturn is currently using SAR to map the surface of the planet's major moon Titan, whose surface is partly hidden from direct optical inspection by atmospheric haze. The SHARAD sounding radar on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and MARSIS instrument on Mars Express 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, launched in 2009, carries a SAR instrument called Mini-RF, 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 based on a blimp 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 for many years to simulate a large radio telescope by combining observations taken from multiple locations using a mobile antenna.
- Terrestrial SAR Interferometry (TInSAR)
- Radar MASINT
- SAR Lupe
- Remote sensing
- Earth observation satellite
- Magellan space probe
- Inverse synthetic aperture radar (ISAR)
- Synthetic array heterodyne detection (SAHD)
- Aperture synthesis
- Synthetic aperture sonar
- Synthetically thinned aperture radar
- Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI)
- Interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR)
- speckle noise
- Wave radar
- "Synthetic Aperture Radar", L. J. Cutrona, Chapter 23 (25 pp) of the McGraw Hill "Radar Handbook", 1970. (Written while optical data processing was still the only workable method, by the person who first led that development.)
- "A short history of the Optics Group of the Willow Run Laboratories," Emmett N. Leith, in Trends in Optics: Research, Development, and Applications (book), Anna Consortini, Academic Press, San Diego: 1996.
- "Sighted Automation and Fine Resolution Imaging", W. M. Brown, J. L. Walker, and W. R. Boario, IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, Vol. 40, No. 4, October 2004, pp 1426–1445.
- "In Memory of Carl A. Wiley," A. W. Love, IEEE Antennas and Propagation Society Newsletter, pp 17–18, June 1985.
- "Synthetic Aperture Radars: A Paradigm for Technology Evolution", C. A. Wiley, IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, v. AES-21, n. 3, pp 440–443, May 1985
- Gart, Jason H. "Electronics and Aerospace Industry in Cold War Arizona, 1945–1968: Motorola, Hughes Aircraft, Goodyear Aircraft." Phd diss., Arizona State University, 2006.
- "Some Early Developments in Synthetic Aperture Radar Systems," C. W. Sherwin, J. P. Ruina, and R. D. Rawcliffe, IRE Transactions on Military Electronics, April 1962, pp. 111–115.
- This memo was one of about 20 published as a volume subsidiary to the following reference. No unclassified copy has yet been located. Hopefully, some reader of this article may come across a still existing one.
- "Problems of Battlefield Surveillance", Report of Project TEOTA (The Eyes Of The Army), 1 May 1953, Office of the Chief Signal Officer. Defense Technical Information Center (Document AD 32532)
- "A Doppler Technique for Obtaining Very Fine Angular Resolution from a Side-Looking Airborne Radar" Report of Project Michigan No. 2144-5-T, The University of Michigan, Willow Run Research Center, July 1954. (No declassified copy of this historic originally confidential report has yet been located.)
- "High-Resolution Radar Achievements During Preliminary Flight Tests", W. A. Blikken and G.O. Hall, Institute of Science and Technology, Univ. of Michigan, 01 Sept 1957. Defense Technical Information Center (Document AD148507)
- "A High-Resolution Radar Combat-Intelligence System", L. J. Cutrona, W. E. Vivian, E. N. Leith, and G. O Hall; IRE Transactions on Military Electronics, April 1961, pp 127–131
- "Optical Data Processing and Filtering Systems", L. J. Cutrona, E. N. Leith, C. J. Palermo, and L. J. Porcello; IRE Transactions on Information Theory, June 1960, pp 386–400.
- Quill (satellite)
- "Observation of the earth and its environment: survey of missions and sensors," Herbert J. Kramer
- "Principles of Synthetic Aperture Radar", S. W. McCandless and C. R. Jackson, Chapter 1 of "SAR Marine Users Manual", NOAA, 2004, p.11.
- 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.
- A text that includes an introduction on SAR suitable for beginners is "Introduction to Microwave Remote Sensing" by Iain H Woodhouse, CRC Press, 2006.
||This article's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or guidelines. (November 2010)|
- NHAZCA – Natural Hazards Control and Assessment
- Publication: SAR simulation (Electromagnetic simulation software for SAR imagery studies: www.oktal-se.fr)
- Sandia National Laboratories SAR Page (Home of miniSAR, smallest hi-res SAR)
- The Imaging Radar Home Page (NASA SAR missions)
- InSAR measurements from the Space Shuttle
- JPL InSAR Images
- GeoSAR – GeoSAR is a dualband XBand and PBand system owned and operated by Fugro EarthData
- Airborne Synthetic-Aperture Radar (AIRSAR) ) (NASA Airborne SAR)
- The CCRS airborne SAR page (Canadian airborne missions)
- RADARSAT international (Canadian radar satellites)
- The ERS missions (European radar satellites)
- The ENVISAT mission (ESA's most recent SAR satellite)
- Earth Snapshot – Web Portal dedicated to Earth Observation. Includes commented satellite images, information on storms, hurricanes, fires and meteorological phenomena.
- The JERS satellites (Japanese radar satellites)
- Images from the Space Shuttle SAR instrument
- The Alaska Satellite Facility has numerous technical documents, including an introductory text on SAR theory and scientific applications
- BYU SAR projects and images Images from BYU's three SAR systems (YSAR, YINSAR, μSAR)
- NSSDC Master Catalog information on Venera 15 and 16
- NSSDC Master Catalog information on Magellan Mission
- PolsarPro Open Source Polarimetric SAR Processing Toolbox sponsored by ESA.
- Next ESA SAR Toolbox for viewing and analyzing SAR Level 1 data and higher from various missions
- Przemysłowy Instytut Telekomunikacji S.A.
- Birsen Yazici's SAR related publications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute