Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) uses the relative motion between an antenna and its target region to provide distinctive long-term coherent-signal variations which are exploited to obtain finer spatial resolution than is possible with conventional beam-scanning means. Synthetic Aperture Radar takes advantage of the long-range propagation characteristics of radar signals and the complex information processing capability of modern digital electronics to provide high resolution imagery. Synthetic aperture radar complements photographic and other optical imaging capabilities because of the minimum constraints on time-of-day and atmospheric conditions and because of the unique responses of terrain and cultural targets to radar frequencies.
To implement a synthertic aperture radar a single beam-forming antenna is mounted on a moving platform, such as an aircraft or spacecraft. Then, using this antenna, the target scene is repeatedly illuminated with pulses of radio waves at wavelengths anywhere from a meter down to millimeters. The many echo waveforms received successively at the different antenna positions are coherently detected and stored and then post-processed together to resolve elements in an image of the target region. A SAR's (commonly) single physical antenna element gathers signals at different positions at different times. When the radar is carried by an aircraft or an orbiting vehicle, those positions are functions of a single variable, distance along the vehicle’s path, which is a single mathematical dimension (not necessarily the same as a linear geometric dimension). The signals are stored, thus becoming functions, no longer of time, but of recording locations along that dimension.
Synthetic aperture radar technology has provided terrain structural information to geologists for mineral exploration, oil spill boundaries on water to environmentalists, sea state and ice hazard maps to navigators, and reconnaissance and targeting information to military operations. There are many other applications or potential applications. Some of these, particularly civilian, have not yet been adequately explored because lower cost electronics are just beginning to make SAR technology economical for smaller scale uses.