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Brian Dunbar

December 13, 1991

Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
(Phone: 202/453-1547)

Jim Doyle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
(Phone: 818/354-5011)

RELEASE: 91-205


Radar scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion

Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., have developed a new, more accurate,
airborne radar system for topographic mapping of the Earth's

The instrument, called TOPSAR for topographic synthetic

aperture radar, has many potential commercial and scientific uses
and will be about three times more accurate than any topographic
mapper now readily available, said Dr. Howard Zebker of JPL.

TOPSAR, an interferometric radar mapper, is carried aboard

NASA's DC-8 aircraft. Radar interferometry measures the
difference from each of the two antennas to a point on the ground
to determine the height of that point by triangulation. The
separation of the antennas, which forms the third side of the
triangle, is called the baseline.

The instrument, developed in collaboration with an Italian

consortium, is a prototype for a possible satellite mission to map
the entire globe at high topographic resolution, Zebker said.

JPL currently operates a multifrequency radar, called AIRSAR,

aboard the NASA aircraft, and TOPSAR uses much of the AIRSAR
hardware. But several modifications were implemented to achieve
optimum performance in topographic mapping, Zebker said.

"Our goal here is to provide an operational instrument

capable of delivering digital elevation models at a height
accuracy of 6.6 feet and a spatial resolution of 33 feet," he

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The present instrument has an accuracy of only 9.9 feet in
height, Zebker said, however, scientists continue to work
eliminating phase errors that result from, among other things,
aircraft motion.

The radar pulses are transmitted from a single antenna and

are received simultaneously at two different antennas. The best
performance is achieved by minimizing errors in baseline length
distance to each point in the image and distortion in the data
processor, Zebker said.

But the aircraft attitude is also important, he said, because

the roll angle of the aircraft can be translated into an error in
look angle of the radar.

Modifications in AIRSAR hardware and new computer software on

board the plane are being used to ascertain the accuracy of the
instrument. TOPSAR was tested in topographic mapping of several
sites in the United States and Europe.

Zebker said the instrument could be used to analyze

geological processes expressed in surface topography to study land
use and water drainage and to aid in management of disasters such
as landslides and earthquakes.

The instrument was described in a paper by Zebker and

co-authors Soren Madsen and Jan Martin of JPL. The
interferometric antennas mounted on the DC-8 were developed by
Alenia S.p.A. under contract from the Italian Consortium for
Research and Development of Advanced Remote Sensing Systems.

JPL managed the TOPSAR research and development for NASA's

Office of Space Science and Applications.

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