Using SAR to Observe Earth Surface Deformation in Three Dimensions

University of Leeds, working with Astrium Satellites Ltd

Pathfinder Project

Earth surface deformation is the primary signature of a wide range of geophysical processes. The SuperSAR mission uses a space based radar instrument to provide data that can be processed to give interferograms of the Earth from 4 distinct viewing geometries, enabling SuperSAR to make measurements of Earth surface motion in three dimensions. The primary scientific objective of SuperSAR is to measure Earth surface deformation to a sufficient precision to improve our capacity to predict the likelihood of hazardous events, to assess the stability of geological formations for the processing of geo-resources, and to assess the stability of Earth’s ice sheets.

The analysis describes how the slow rate of seismic strain accumulation is the principle determinant of the required level of improvement in observations and how 2D and 3D surface deformation measurements of unprecedented accuracy can be made using the innovative design of SuperSAR. A rigorous assessment of the error budget for a satellite interferometer has been carried out and an assessment made of the ability of SuperSAR to meet the primary measurement objectives. An assessment is made of the overall mission performance, explaining the deficiencies of other satellite missions and how SuperSAR complements present and planned series of ground-based and spaceborne Earth Observation programmes.

The study has investigated the design and development of the SuperSAR instrument, and explains how deformation of the Earth’s surface will be measured. It has summarised the key system parameters, the imaging geometry and the ground coverage of the satellite orbit, and outlined the architecture of the SuperSAR satellite platform. The satellite orbit and control systems, the design of the spacecraft subsystems, including preliminary mass, propellant, power and payload data handling budgets have been developed.

This study has been used as the scientific and technical basis of the proposal from the University of Leeds, working with Astrium Satellites Ltd, for the SuperSAR mission into the ESA Earth Explorer 8 Call.