Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is a sophisticated remote sensing technology used in satellite and airborne systems to create high-resolution images of the Earth’s surface.

SAR utilises the radar platform’s motion to ‘synthesise’ a larger antenna aperture to achieve enhanced imaging capabilities. This can be used in a range of applications, such as maritime surveillance, disaster management, precision agriculture, and environmental monitoring.

SAR’s combination of radar technology and advanced signal processing techniques generates high-resolution images of the Earth’s surface. Unlike optical imaging systems that are reliant on the sun to illuminate the imaging scene, SAR features active sensors that produce and emit their own energy to the earth’s surface and then receive and record the reflected (or backscattered) energy.


How SAR Works

1. Signal Transmission

SAR operates in the microwave portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. It emits pulses of microwave energy toward the Earth’s surface from an antenna onboard a satellite or an aircraft. The microwave signals penetrate through the atmosphere and interact with the objects on the ground.

2. Interaction with the Earth’s Surface

When the microwave signals encounter objects on the Earth’s surface, they are partially reflected towards the SAR antenna. Different types of surfaces (e.g. vegetation, buildings, or water) reflect and scatter the microwave signals in unique ways, allowing SAR to capture information about the characteristics of the objects.

3. Recording Echoes

The SAR system records the echoes or reflected signals received by the antenna. These echoes contain information about the distance travelled by the signals and the properties of the reflecting surfaces.

4. Motion Compensation

In SAR, the antenna is typically in motion (e.g. mounted on a satellite or an aircraft) so that as the platform moves, the radar beams sweep across the Earth’s surface. Motion compensation techniques are applied to account for the platform’s movement and ensure that the radar beams are effectively focused on the same spot on the ground throughout the data acquisition.

5. Synthetic Aperture Formation

The key innovation in SAR is the creation of a ‘synthetic aperture,’ which is a virtual and longer aperture achieved by combining the data collected over the entire radar track. This synthetic aperture allows SAR to achieve high-resolution imagery.

6. Data Processing and Image Formation

The collected data undergoes complex signal processing algorithms to form a coherent image. These algorithms account for the time delay and phase shifts in the received signals to generate a detailed representation of the Earth’s surface. SAR processing techniques include range compression, Doppler processing, and focusing algorithms to create a high-resolution image with pixel-level detail.

7. Interferometry

SAR can also be used for interferometry, where two or more SAR images of the same area taken at different times are compared. This technique, known as InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar), enables the detection of subtle changes in the Earth’s surface, such as ground deformation or subsidence.

Advantages of SAR

Renowned for its all-weather capabilities, SAR’s advanced radar technology to penetrate through clouds and darkness, providing a consistent and uninterrupted view. This unique trait sets SAR apart, making it an invaluable tool for almost any application.

In addition, its high-resolution imaging, ability to operate from space, and contribution to informed decision-making make SAR a cornerstone technology in our quest for precision, resilience, and sustainability in various industries.