Artist's illustration using binary numbers. Photo Credit: DARPA

A new radar mapping technology designed to generate high-resolution, three-dimensional maps of Earth beneath foliage and other vegetation has been licensed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., to EarthData International, Inc., Fresno, Calif.

This will be the first system that will be able to map above, through and below the vegetation canopy, providing important information such as data about landslides that are overgrown with vegetation.

The National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), in conjunction with JPL and EarthData International, Inc., showcased the Geographic Synthetic Aperture Radar (GeoSAR) mapping system to an audience of congressional sponsors and potential military and civilian users of GeoSAR map products during an open house held at the Signature Aviation Hangar, Ronald Reagan National Airport, Washington, D.C., on Friday, June 8.

"A special feature of the GeoSAR system will be its ability to acquire three-dimensional images of Earth's surface through a technique called interferometry," said Dr. Scott Hensley, the system developer at JPL. "Because GeoSAR uses radar, the system will be able to operate both day and night, under almost any weather condition."

JPL designed and constructed the radar systems and the processing software, which was licensed to EarthData International, Inc., a mapping and remote sensing company, from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which manages JPL for NASA. After the system is fully tested, EarthData plans to use this license to provide GeoSAR mapping services on a commercial basis to both military and civilian clients.

Building on JPL's years of leadership and experience in the field of interferometric radar remote sensing, the GeoSAR team concluded that the most promising way to measure Earth beneath the trees is to use a combination of X-band and P-band (UHF) radar waves. The shorter wavelength X-band radar measures near the tops of the trees, while the longer wavelength P-band (UHF) radar penetrates the foliage. Using data from the dual-frequency radar, the GeoSAR system can produce high-resolution elevation models with precise vertical accuracies to 1 to 5 meters (3 to 16 feet).

The GeoSAR system can allow the military to rapidly map vast areas where limited data exist from other sources. Other federal, state and local government agencies as well as private sector organizations also may use GeoSAR data to better understand seismic change in forested areas, assess forest fire damage or measure timber volumes and biomass. The data will also help in land use planning, environmental protection, flood plain management and other geographic analyses.

The program, which is managed by NIMA, will undergo a yearlong test period. During this test period, using EarthData's Gulfstream-II aircraft, JPL and EarthData, with NIMA support, will collect GeoSAR imagery and data over sites in California, the Eastern United States, the Northwest, Alaska and South America. These data collections will enable JPL to refine the data processing algorithms. NIMA anticipates the system will be commercially operational by late 2002.

The Defense and Civil Programs Office at JPL is responsible for the collaboration between JPL and EarthData. The collaboration is just one of several JPL programs designed to bring the benefits of the space program to American industry. JPL is the lead U.S. center for robotic exploration of the solar system.

More information about the GeoSAR system is available online at

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