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Satellites Using Radar Technology to Observe Earth in Unprecedented Detail

Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology enables satellites to see through clouds and give high-resolution photos of Earth's surface. Start-ups such as Iceye and Capella Space are incorporating SAR into constellations of smaller satellites to provide round-the-clock observation. SAR satellites provide larger coverage and higher-resolution photos than optical satellites, regardless of weather conditions.

This groundbreaking technology, which was previously limited to huge commercial satellites, is now being integrated into constellations of smaller, low-Earth orbit nanosatellites by businesses such as Iceye and CapellaSpace. The goal is to provide round-the-clock observation of any point on the earth, which will benefit companies ranging from non-governmental entities to military customers.

SAR satellites provide larger coverage and higher-resolution photos than optical satellites, regardless of weather conditions. Unlike optical satellites, which rely on sunlight, SAR generates its own "sunlight" by sending powerful microwave signals to Earth. SAR creates highly detailed radar images by processing the signals bounced back, detecting changes on the Earth's surface as small as a fingernail. This technology gives us extraordinary power to monitor and comprehend our world.

The applications of SAR are numerous and diverse. In recent years, SAR satellites have helped to uncover the scope of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, follow the progress of wildfires in Hawaii, and analyse the damage caused by catastrophes such as the Baltimore Francis Scott Key Bridge incident. SAR is also used to investigate dangers such as sinkhole development and to detect oil spills, especially following hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.

Miniaturisation, cost reduction, and speedier satellite deployment have all contributed to the improvement of SAR technology. Start-ups like Iceye have successfully built satellites that are 100 times cheaper than two decades ago and can be launched four to five times faster. The falling prices of components, easier satellite launches, availability of venture capital, and the early success of SAR have all contributed to its rapid development.

The future of SAR technology is dependent on overcoming engineering hurdles, such as increasing satellite size while remaining small enough for easy launch. Furthermore, the development of orbital communication networks such as Amazon's Kuiper will speed up data delivery from SAR satellites to users. Artificial intelligence (AI) will also play an important role in extracting useful information from SAR data and presenting it in an understandable manner.

As SAR technology advances, it is likely to have a significant impact on many parts of society. SAR's skills will help to improve supply chain efficiency and agriculture output, making our world run more smoothly. Furthermore, SAR's capacity to offer real-time information during natural catastrophes, such as floods, can assist keep people safe.

  • Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology allows satellites to see through clouds and provide high-resolution images of the Earth's surface.

  • Start-ups like Iceye and Capella Space are integrating SAR into constellations of smaller satellites for round-the-clock observation.

  • SAR satellites offer wider coverage and higher-resolution images compared to optical satellites, regardless of weather conditions.

Source: BBC

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