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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

NASA Evaluates Compact Synthetic Aperture Radar

NASA is evaluating a compact L-Band synthetic aperture radar for potential use on unmanned aircraft. The sensor detects and measures small changes in the Earth's surface of geophysical interest, such as volcanoes, earthquake faults,landslides and glaciers.

NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., are partnering in the development of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR). A modified NASA Gulfstream III aircraft carries the JPL-developed radar in a custom-built pod under the aircraft's fuselage during its development phase.

"The system is an imaging radar. It is like a camera that uses microwaves to make an image," says Scott Hensley, chief scientist for the UAVSAR project. "It collects data to measure the deformation of the Earth's surface, for example from an earthquake or volcano. This will help us better understand how earthquakes and volcanoes work. The way we do that is through the signatures of how they deform the Earth's surface."

During these validation flights, the aircraft is using a technique known as repeat pass interferometry that requires the aircraft to fly each pass as close to the original flight line as possible. For the UAVSAR experiment, two data passes, flown from minutes to months apart, are compared to examine changes in the Earth's surface. Flying this technique enables the data collected by the synthetic aperture radar to be converted into surface displacement measurements with a sensitivity equal to a fractional part of the radar wavelength.

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