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TSX (TerraSAR-X) Mission

TerraSAR-X1 (also referred to as TSX or TSX-1) is a German SAR satellite mission for scientific and commercial applications (national project). The project is supported by BMBF (German Ministry of Education and Science) and managed by DLR (German Aerospace Center). In 2002, EADS Astrium GmbH was awarded a contract to implement the X-band TerraSAR satellite (TerraSAR-X) on the basis of a public-private partnership agreement (PPP). In this arrangement, EADS Astrium funded part of the implementation cost of the TerraSAR-X system. In exchange, EADS Astrium/Infoterra received the exclusive commercial exploitation rights for the TerraSAR-X data. The satellite is owned and operated by DLR, and the scientific data rights remain with DLR. The satellite has a design life of at least five years. TerraSAR-X is of SIR-C/X-SAR (1994) and SRTM (2000) heritage - DLR SAR instruments flown on Shuttle missions. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9) 10) 11)

The science objectives are to make multi-mode and high-resolution X-band data available for a wide spectrum of scientific applications in such fields as: hydrology, geology, climatology, oceanography, environmental and disaster monitoring, and cartography (DEM generation) making use of interferometry and stereometry. The science potential of the mission is given by:

• The high geometric and radiometric resolution (experimental 300 MHz Mode for very high range resolution)

• The single, dual and quad polarization mode capability

• The capability of multi-temporal imaging

• The capability of repeat-pass interferometry

• The capability of ATI (Along-Track Interferometry)

The business goal in this venture is to establish a commercial EO (Earth Observation) market by Infoterra on a sustainable service concept to its customer base. Infoterra, a subsidiary of EADS Astrium, is comprised of Infoterra Ltd. in Farnborough, UK, and Infoterra GmbH in Friedrichshafen, Germany (a subsidiary of EADS Astrium GmbH). Infoterra has established a global distribution network with a range of service options for its customers. A commercial goal is also to provide monitoring services for European initiative GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security). 12) 13) 14)


Figure 1: Overview of the SAR program roadmap in 2012 (image credit: DLR, Astrium GEO-Information Services) 15) 16)


Space segment:

The TerraSAR X-band satellite, built by EADS Astrium GmbH, Friedrichshafen, employs a mission-tailored AstroSat-1000 bus (successor of Flexbus and LEOSTAR due to industrial merger - initially AstroSat-1000 was referred to as AstroBus) concept with a heritage of CHAMP and GRACE missions. The hexagonal outer shape of the spacecraft, with a total height of about 5 m and a diameter of about 2.4 m, is mainly driven by the accommodation of the SAR instrument, the body mounted solar array, and the geometrical limitations given by the Dnepr-1 launcher fairing. The S/C bus design features a central hexagonal CFRP structure as the main load carrying element. The cross-sectional view of Figure 5 illustrates the mounting concept of radiator, solar array, and SAR antenna elements. Three sides of the hexagon are populated with electronics equipment, while the sun-facing side is additionally carrying the solar array. The SAR antenna is mounted on one of the hexagon sides, which in flight attitude points 33.8º off nadir. The other nadir looking side is reserved for the accommodation of an S-band TT&C antenna, a SAR data downlink antenna - carried by a deployable boom of 3.3 m length in order to avoid RF interferences during simultaneous radar imaging and data transmission to ground - and a Laser Retro Reflector to support precise orbit determination. The deep-space looking surface is used for the LCT (Laser Communication Terminal) and as thermal radiator. The total wet mass of the satellite is about 1230 kg.


Figure 2: Artist's view of the deployed TerraSAR-X spacecraft in orbit (image credit: DLR, EADS Astrium GmbH)

The solar array is of size 5.25 m2, triple-junction GaAs type solar cells are used providing an average orbital power of 800 W EOL. The attitude control system is based on reaction wheels for fine-pointing, with magnetorquers for desaturation, and a propulsion system also capable of attitude control in order to achieve rapid rate damping during initial acquisition.

Attitude measurement is performed with a GPS/Star Tracker system (MosaicGNSS) during nominal operation and a CESS (Coarse Earth and Sun Sensor) in safe mode situations, initial acquisition respectively (CESS is of CHAMP and GRACE heritage). A combination of IMU (Inertial measurement Unit) and a magnetometer serve to support rate measurements in all mission phases. In fine pointing mode, a pointing accuracy of 65 arcsec is achieved (3 σ). Nominal attitude control follows a novel “total zero Doppler steering” law developed by DLR. Precise orbit determination is performed with a dual-frequency GPS receiver and raw data post processing on ground, permitting for orbit restitution accuracies in the cm range. A set of high torque reaction wheels enables rapid rotation into the so-called SSL (Sun Side Looking) orientation which is used to acquire high priority imaging targets. To point the SAR antenna into the SSL direction, a roll movement of 67.6º is required which as achieved in < 180 s.


Figure 3: Flight unit box of the MosaicGNSS receiver (image credit: EADS Astrium)

The MosaicGNSS receiver of EADS Astrium represents a fully space qualified receiver that is specifically designed for high robustness and longterm use in a space environment. The receiver comprises a main electronic unit, a single L1 GPS patch antenna and an external low noise amplifier. The signal correlation is performed in software and up to eight satellites can be tracked simultaneously with the current hardware configuration. A navigation filter ensures a smooth and continuous navigation solution even under restricted GPS visibility.
In the upcoming TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X missions, the MosaicGNSS receiver supports the onboard timing and provides the basic orbital information for aligning the spacecraft with the ground track and nadir direction. MosaicGNSS navigation solutions will also be transmitted via an intersatellite link between both spacecraft to support autonomous formation flying and collision avoidance. For precise orbit determination and baseline reconstruction, both spacecraft are equipped with dedicated dual frequency GPS receivers IGOR (Integrated Geodetic and Occultation Receiver). Furthermore, the MosaicGNSS receiver, serves as an alternative for precise orbit determination in case the IGOR receiver would fail to work. To support this task, a full set of raw measurements is made available in the housekeeping telemetry in addition to the real-time navigation solution. The comprehensive measurement set and the availability of geodetic grade reference receiver offer a unique opportunity to characterize the in-flight performance of the MosaicGNSS receiver. 17)

The spacecraft is equipped with a monopropellant hydrazine blow-down mode propulsion system for orbit maintenance and safe mode attitude control. A propellant mass of 78 kg is considered sufficient for almost 10 years of orbit maintenance support.

Onboard data handling: The newly developed ICDE (Integrated Control and Data System Electronics) system is being used as the central component for all avionics services. The ICDE core consists of two redundant 32 bit processor modules, implementing the ATMEL ERC32SC (Embedded Real-time computing Core - 32 bit Single Chip) processor, giving it a processing performance of more than 18 MIPS and enough memory capacity to handle full AOCS and data handling software tasks, leaving sufficient margins in performance and memory capacity for future extensions and redundancy concepts. A dedicated, hot-redundant reconfiguration module provides all necessary surveillance, reconfiguration, command and telemetry functions. The ICDE modules are cross-coupled, providing a fully redundant unit.

The ICDE provides the spacecraft and payload interfaces with the following standard link protocols: MIL-1553 bus, HDLC and SpaceWire. An optional GPS receiver module with optional star sensor processing fits seamlessly into the architecture; it is capable of acquiring and independently tracking of up to eight GPS satellites and provides position, velocity and time. The ICDE uses full duplex UART (Universal Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter) interfaces to all ”intelligent” onboard equipment, except for the LCT experiment, where a MIL-STD-1553B bus is being used. The ICDE has a mass budget of 12-18 kg and a power demand of 15-30 W, depending on the configuration selected.


Figure 4: Illustration of the ICDE assembly (image credit: EADS Astrium)

The spacecraft design life is 5 years for operations with a goal of 6.5 years (de-orbiting is planned at the end of the useful life time).

Orbit: Sun-synchronous circular dawn-dusk orbit with a local time of ascending node at 18:00 hours (± 0.25 h) equatorial crossing, average altitude = 514.8 km (505-533 km), inclination = 97.44º, nominal revisit period of 11 days (167 orbits within revisit period, 15 2/11 orbits per day). The ground track repeatability is within ± 500 m per revisit period (repeat cycle). Due to its flexibility, TerraSAR-X can cover any point on Earth within a maximum of 4.5 days, 90% of the surface within 2 days.

See the TanDEM-X file for a more detailed description of the Helix orbit in tandem flight.

Spacecraft reentry (ESA requirement): At the end of its operational life the spacecraft orbit will be lowered to about 300 km (perigee) resulting eventually in enough air drag for a reentry (and a complete fragmentation and destruction of the S/C in the atmosphere).

RF communications: A standard S-band TT&C system with 360º coverage in uplink and downlink is used for satellite command reception and telemetry transmission. The uplink path is encrypted. Generated payload (SAR) data are stored onboard in a SSMM (Solid State Mass Memory) unit of 256 Gbit EOL capacity prior to transmission via the XDA (X-band Downlink Assembly) at a data rate of 300 Mbit/s. The X-band downlink is encrypted. The on-board SAR raw data are compressed using the BAQ (Block Adaptive Quantization) algorithm, a standard SAR procedure. The compression factor is selectable between 8/6, 8/4, 8/3 or 8/2 (more efficient techniques can only be applied to processed SAR imagery). Both communication links are designed according to the ESA CCSDS Packet Telemetry Standard. - The X-band antenna is mounted on a deployable boom 3.3 m in length (the only deployable item on the S/C) to prevent interference with the X-band SAR instrument. This arrangement enables for simultaneous SAR observations and X-band downlink.

In preparation of the TanDEM-X mission, where the TerraSAR-X satellite will fly in close constellation with TanDEM-X (an identical S/C) for interferometric observations, the TerraSAR-X instrument is furnished with all necessary features for PRF and synchronization between the two spacecraft. In particular, there are 6 sync horns for the omni-directional emission and reception of radar sync pulses.

S/C wet mass

1230 kg (bus=549 kg, payload=394 kg, propellant of 78 kg)

S/C dimensions

5 m x 2.4 m

SAR antenna dimensions

5 m x 0.80 m

S/C power

800 W of orbit average power (EOL), 1.8 kW of peak power (BOL); energy storage of 108 Ah capacity of Lithium-Ion battery

Power distribution

35-51 V unregulated power bus; converter to 28 V and converter to 115 V 30 kHz AC for TSX-SAR front end

S/C pointing accuracy

65 arcsec (3σ)

RF communications

X-band of 300 Mbit/s link of payload data downlink with DQPSK modulation; S-band uplink of 4 kbit/s (2025-2110 MHz), BPSK modulation; S-band downlink of 32 kbit/s to 1 Mbit/s (2200-2400 MHz), BPSK modulation

Table 1: Overview of the TerraSAR-X1 spacecraft characteristics


Launch: The successful launch of TerraSAR-X took place on June 15, 2007 from the Russian Cosmodrome, Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on a Russian/Ukrainian Dnepr-1 launch vehicle with a 1.5 m long fairing extension. Launch provider: ISC Kosmotras, Moscow. - The launch, originally planned for Oct. 31, 2006, had to be shifted several times after an unsuccessful launch of a rocket of the same type in the summer of 2006. The single cause of this launch mishap was discovered and properly corrected.


Figure 5: Cutaway illustration of the TerraSAR-X S/C (view from nadir direction)


Figure 6: Functional architecture of TerraSAR-X spacecraft (image credit: EADS Astrium GmbH)


Figure 7: The TerraSAR-X spacecraft bus in the manufacturing process at EADS Astrium (image credit: EADS Astrium)



TerraSAR-X mission status:

• January 09, 2014: For ten days, 74 scientists and tourists were trapped in the Antarctic on board the Russian Akademik Shokalskiy research vessel. Strong winds had driven ice floes into a bay, blocking the ship's advancement. High-resolution satellite data of TerraSAR-X provided by DLR (German Aerospace Center) helped to assess the ice conditions at the location. 18)

In pack ice, the situation can change quickly when the wind shifts. This is why researchers from the DLR Earth Observation Center (EOC) use up-to-date, high-resolution images from the Earth observation satellite TerraSAR-X to provide the crew of the research vessel with up-to-date information regarding the ice conditions. The German radar satellite operates in a variety of modes to permit imaging with varying swath widths, resolutions and polarizations.

Seeing through clouds and darkness, the satellite is able to observe the ocean and frozen waters from an altitude of around 500 km, providing a swath width of 30 km. To do this, it emits microwaves that are reflected back to the satellite in a way that depends on the characteristics of the reflecting surface. The technology provides an extremely high resolution image of down to 3 m. This is crucial, as the ice structure may change greatly over just a few hundred meters.

Faced with the situation of the Akademik Shokalskiy, the DLR ground station processed the satellite images in near real time and transmitted them to the rescue center in Australia just one hour after acquisition of the Antarctic scenes. Scientists from the DLR Microwaves and Radar Institute (IMF) used TerraSAR–X to acquire images of the trapped research ship on 1 January 2014. Software at the DLR Research Center for Maritime Safety in Bremen was used to track the ships, by utilizing the contrast and differing textures of the vessel and sea ice to detect the vessels amongst the frozen masses. Assessing the ice can yield a wealth of information on its thickness and properties, for instance whether two floes have collided to form a ridge. Even icebreakers have a tough job making their way through heavier layers such as these.

The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long finally arrived to assist the Akademik Shokalskiy. But the ship could only get to within sight of the trapped research vessel before the icebreaker itself was penned in by the ice masses. On 3 January 2014, a helicopter was dispatched from the Xue Long to transport the passengers on board the Russian research vessel to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis, waiting out in open waters. Both icebreakers have since succeeded in breaking free from the ice under their own power.



Figure 8: The pack ice zone enclosing the two ships (zoomed in) Akademik Shokalskiy and Xue Long (image credit: DLR)

• October 2013: To comply with increased requirements on data freshness, especially from the MERS (Maritime and Emergency Response Services) segments, Astrium Geo-Information Services / Infoterra GmbH has constantly been upgrading TerraSAR’s ground station network access. As a benefit, especially through improved polar station access and processing capabilities, NRT (Near-Real-Time) delivery requirements can be served since early 2012. 19)

In 2013, the product portfolio for TerraSAR-X was enhanced with two new operational modes: 20) 21) 22)

- ST (Staring Spotlight) mode with 0.8 m x 0.25 m resolution

- SCW (ScanSAR Wide) mode with 35 m resolution and a footprint of 200 km x 800 km. The new TerraSAR-X Wide ScanSAR mode (SCW) provides an overview of an area of up to 400,000 km2 within a single acquisition - anywhere and independent of weather conditions. Wide ScanSAR data is thus ideally suited for monitoring of ship traffic, detection of oil spills, monitoring of maritime assets and sea ice, contributing to the security, safety and efficiency of maritime activities around the globe.

High Resolution (HR) imagery is a key advantage of X-band SAR, featuring very detailed textural information of the Earth’s surface and of objects. TerraSAR-X standard HR product using the High Resolution Spotlight mode with 300 MHz chirp bandwidth offers an azimuth resolution of 1.1 m at 5 km azimuth scene extension with variable ground range resolution as a function of incidence angle at 10 km ground range scene extension.

A so-called sliding Spotlight mode is used to generate this product. In this mode the antenna beam is sliding along the imaged scene, as illustrated in Figure 9. The velocity of the antenna beam is retarded with respect to the spacecraft velocity. The azimuth steering ranges from angle ±0.75º and the rotation center is outside the scene. The datatake begins when the antenna footprint moves into the fore edge of the ground scene and ends when the footprint leaves the aft edge of the ground scene. This results in a fairly good azimuth scene extension and equally distributed SNR across the image while grating lobes are reduced to a minimum to achieve the best possible ambiguity performance.

The system is, however, capable of an improved azimuth resolution by applying the so-called ST (Staring Spotlight) mode operationally available as of fall 2013. The Staring Spotlight mode is the classical Spotlight mode with azimuth antenna steering to a rotation center inside the imaged scene (Figure 9), i.e. the antenna beam is steered to the scene center during the complete datatake. The antenna footprint has to cover the entire ground scene. This provides the best possible azimuth resolution (0.2 m, 1 look) using a much greater azimuth steering angle range from ±2.2º compared to the sliding Spotlight mode. It has been shown that the azimuth ambiguities that occur because of wide azimuth beam steering can be controlled by proper timing commanding. It should be noted that the azimuth scene extension is a function of incidence angle, i.e. the azimuth scene extension increases with incidence angle, in contrast to the sliding Spotlight mode with constant azimuth scene extension.

Different from Spotlight operations the Stripmap modes apply a SAR antenna beam that is always orthogonal to the flight direction, i.e. no azimuth steering takes place (Figure 9).

Figure 10 shows an example of a staring Spotlight TerraSAR-X acquisition compared to its sliding Spotlight of the same scene. This staring Spotlight example is processed with multi-looking in azimuth resulting in sub meter resolution. Multi-looking reduces the azimuth resolution from the best achievable 0.2 m in single look and improves on the other hand the radiometric behavior of the image which increases image interpretability with better visible radar shadows. The sliding Spotlight example in Figure 10 in comparison features an azimuth resolution of 1.1 m in single look at the same ground range resolution.

Table 2: TerraSAR-X High Resolution SpotLight Modes


Figure 9: Principle of Staring Spotlight, Sliding Spotlight and Stripmap Mode (image credit: DLR)

Figure 10: Staring (left) vs. Sliding (right) Spotlight, extension of image example 380 m (Az) x 350 m (Rg), incidence angle 41º (image credit: DLR, Astrium)

Astrium GEO-Information Services is now also working with Hisdesat, the Spanish government satellite service operator of the PAZ radar satellite to establish a constellation approach with TerraSAR-X and PAZ which will be operational in 2014. Operating the two virtually identical satellites as a constellation will enhance a wide range of time-critical and data-intensive applications through shorter revisit times and increased data acquisition capacities. 23)


Figure 11: Schematic view of the TerraSAR-X / TanDEM-X / PAZ constellation (image credit: Astrium, Hisdesat, Ref. 19)

• August 30, 2013: With a spacecraft design life of 5 years, TerraSAR-X should have been out of service for over a year and a half now (launch on June 15, 2007). However, engineers at DLR have switched the satellite to yet another mode: TerraSAR-X can now record image strips over 200 km wide (in ScanSAR Wide mode, also referred to as SCW). The satellite does so by sweeping this large area in multiple stages, very quickly pivoting the radar beam numerous times across the direction of flight. For example, the image of the German Bight shows the Frisian Islands from Borkum to Wangerooge and cities such as Wilhelmshaven and Bremen (Figure 12). This new ‘wide-angle’ mode is of particular interest to oceanographers, who will be able to use it to investigate the tidal range, changes to mudflats, shipping movements, wave patterns, ice floes and wind levels. 24)

- TerraSAR-X has already delivered more than 120,000 images since being launched. However, the image strips from the TerraSAR-X satellite have been limited to a width of 100 km so far. For the first time, DLR is able to acquire an image of the entire German Bight from east to west, at a single point in time and in high resolution. The wide-swath radar imagery is providing the oceanographer with a great deal of information on the tidal flat and associated inlets between individual islands and the coast, as well as on the high water level in the Elbe estuary and near the island of Sylt. Further to the north, the satellite shows Sylt and numerous wind farms, where wind turbines appear as geometrically arranged bright points in the black and white image (Figure 13). Individual ships can also be made out in the radar images, which means that, with a resolution of 40 m, the Wide-ScanSAR mode can also be used for monitoring shipping routes.

- The operational condition of TerraSAR-X spacecraft and its payload is still very good and the fuel reserves should enable the mission to continue operating until at least 2015.


Figure 12: TerraSAR-X image of the German Bight in the Wide Scan mode (image credit: DLR)


Figure 13: Radar images of wind parks in the German Bight (image credit: DLR)

• June 2013: Following severe flooding in northern India and Nepal, the Indian government activated the 'International Charter Space and Major Disasters on 19 June 2013. DLR tasked its radar satellite TerraSAR-X with acquiring images of the affected areas and made these available to the Indian civil protection authorities. 25)

In India, the situation is far worse than initially thought. The heavy rains surprised the people in the disaster areas. So far, the floods are known to have killed more than 680 people and thousands are still missing; about ten thousand military personnel have been deployed. The biggest rescue operation in the history of the Indian military is underway. The effects are especially bad in the mountainous state of Uttarakhand, where the Ganges River and its tributaries have flooded. TerraSAR-X has imaged this region over the last few days.


Figure 14: Observation of the June 2013 floods with TerraSAR-X in the North Indian states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh (image credit: DLR)

• The TerraSAR-X spacecraft and its payload are operation nominally in 2013.

• November 2012: Since January 2011, the Earth under the Santorini volcano has been stirring. Most of the time, it is barely noticeable, but every now and then the inhabitants notice small tremors jolting the volcanic archipelago. Nearly circular, and seemingly carved from stone, the submerged caldera is located in the Aegean Sea (Mediterranean, Greece). 26)

Funded by the UK National Environment Research Council, radar specialist Juliet Biggs, Parks and volcanologist David Pyle (University of Oxford) began to study the Santorini volcano closely. Using GPS receivers, they determined precise locations with millimetric accuracy on a daily basis. The TerraSAR-X radar satellite also observed the archipelago from orbit, at an altitude of 514 km, recording its uplift and expansion from one orbit to the next. The results showed that the Kameni islands had risen 8 to 14 cm in many places. The breadth of the caldera as a whole has increased by about 14 cm since early 2011. In the analysis of the radar data (Figure 15), the red and yellow shading shows the areas where the ground has risen the most. The main island of Thira is unaffected by the deformation, thus appearing blue.

The researchers believe that a magma chamber has formed at a depth of 4 km. They must now combine the information on the volcano's present behavior with the knowledge of previous eruptions. The TerraSAR-X radar satellite has provided important information in this regard.


Figure 15: TerraSAR-X image of the month (Nov. 2012) – the Santorini volcano expands (image credit: DLR)

• October 2012: Figure 16 is the TerraSAR-X image of the month. 27)


Figure 16: TerraSAR-X image of the Bonneville Salt Flats, located to the west of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, USA (image credit: DLR)

Legend to Figure 16: The image was acquired on June 23, 2009. The scene measures 50 km x 30 km. TerraSAR-X also cast a penetrating eye on the around 2000 m high mountains and the salt lake, which lies at an altitude of some 1270 m. The image shows rough surfaces in orange and smooth ones in grey/black. - The large, black surface bordering the industrial area in the middle of the image is the Wendover Facility. Large-scale industrial extraction of brine takes place here, which is needed for manufacturing potash. Next to the city of Wendover is the airport, which was an air force base until 1965. Even from an altitude of over 500 km, TerraSAR-X can detect the fine, parallel orange lines extending from the airport, as well as other transportation routes such as Highway I-80 and the parallel railway running from east to west (east is at the bottom is the image, the I-80 intersects the image in the middle).

• On June 15, 2012, the TerraSAR-X mission completed its 5th year on orbit. Designed to operate for five years, the satellite has now completed its nominal service life but it remains in excellent condition; it is expected to continue functioning for several more years. 28)

Over the past five years, the German TerraSAR-X satellite mission has successfully supported or enabled a wide range of relief efforts and projects. Since June 2010, the satellite has been in good company; TerraSAR-X has been orbiting the Earth in close formation with its almost identical twin, TanDEM-X. Together, they are creating a highly accurate digital elevation model of Earth. With its own unchanged mission targets still in focus, TerraSAR-X has been meeting all expectations here as well (Ref. 28).

• In January 2012, the TerraSAR-X satellite is fully operational and continuous its close formation flight with the TanDEM-X spacecraft. After a year of formation flight of TerraSAR-X, with TanDEM-X, the twin satellites have completely mapped the entire land surface of Earth for the first time. The data is being used to create the world's first single-source, high-precision, 3D digital elevation model of Earth. DLR controls both radar satellites, generates the elevation model, and is responsible for the scientific use of TanDEM-X data. 29)


Figure 17: TerraSAR-X radar image of the Mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories of Canada, acquired on January 31, 2012 (image credit: DLR)

Legend to Figure 17: Ice and snow can be colorful - when observed by TerraSAR-X. The radar signals are able to penetrate the snow cover to a depth of one ~ 1 meter – and the subsurface reflects the pulse in different ways. This makes the frozen delta of the Mackenzie River in Canada appear multi-colored in an image revealing the various structures in the landscape underneath the snow. 30)

From the Great Slave Lake to the Arctic Ocean, the Mackenzie River snakes its way for 1900 km through the Northwest Territories of Canada. During the few ice-free months of the year, the river flows gently through the flat landscape. But when the Arctic winter arrives, everything comes to a standstill – on the surface at least. The polar night would make it impossible for an optical satellite to image the ice world of the Mackenzie River; even when the scant daylight permits a view of it, the entire landscape appears uniformly white in optical images. But the TerraSAR-X satellite image from 31 January 2012 depicts the landscape in violet, blue and green.

Appearing as a grey-green surface in the image, the structure of the vegetation in the barren tundra, which consists of grass and dwarf shrubs, contrasts clearly with the frozen river. River islands, which are only sparsely vegetated, also show signs of sand and gravel bars or dunes – the bright violet coloring in the radar image makes this subsurface clear. From its orbit 514 km above the Earth, TerraSAR-X can even observe variations in the roughness of the ice – surfaces that are actually white display numerous shades of color in the radar image. Deep-frozen lakes and pools to the left and right of the river look like shimmering violet mirrors, because ice on standing water is especially flat and reflects the majority of the radar signals back to the satellite's receiver. In contrast, the frozen Mackenzie River, with its irregular ice layer, reflects radiation back quite differently and appears blue in the radar image. This landscape contains what is referred to as hummock ice and smallish ice floes that have been pushed onto and against one another. The numerous corners and edges reflect the radar signals back to the satellite particularly well. Ice surfaces that were particularly heavily distorted during their formation are visible in shades of yellow. The depth of the lakes and thickness of the ice layer also play a part in this colorful winter landscape – shallow lakes that are frozen to the bottom are colored differently to lakes that still have liquid water under their ice (Ref. 30).

The colorful winter landscape serves a particular purpose for researchers, as they can use various images of the same region to track movement – when the river landscape freezes, when the ice sheet begins to break up again and when the thaw begins. The duration and intensity of this icy period are important indicators for climate research.


• DInSAR (Differential SAR Interferometry) study in 2011. TOPS (Terrain Observation with Progressive Scan) data was used in the processing chain to measure ground displacement movements by means of DInSAR. The investigation analyzed a stack of 8 TOPS and 8 stripmap images in terms of time-series performance for subsidence estimation. The estimated deformation used the SBAS (Small BAseline Subset) technique, which takes into account possible DEM errors and the APS (Atmospheric Phase Screen), have shown a good agreement between the TOPS and stripmap results. The investigation of the deformation using TOPS-stripmap cross-interferograms has also been performed and successfully exploited by means of CS (Coherent Scatterers). The results yield that, as expected, the phase is preserved for CS even if there is no spectral overlap. 31)

• In January 2011, TerraSAR-X is fully operational and in close formation flight the TanDEM-X spacecraft. The two spacecraft provide a single-pass interferometric configuration, which was declared operational in December 2010. The collection of data for a global homogeneous DEM started - as planned - in early 2011.

Figure 18 is the image of the month of July 2011 of TerraSAR-X. The Puyehue volcano erupted on June 4, 2011 in the southern Andes mountains. A field of lava, appearing as a uniform, light blue surface, is currently forming there. Radar images acquired by TerraSAR-X have been providing valuable information to the staff of the Chilean Volcano Risk Program since the eruption began, helping them to assess the situation and predict its future development. 32)


Figure 18: TerraSAR-X image of the Puyehue volcano in Chile on July 6, 2011, one month after its eruption (image credit: DLR)


Figure 19: TerraSAR-X image of the month of May 2011 illustrating the urban sprawl around Istanbul, Turkey (image credit: DLR) 33)

Legend to Figure 19: The Bosphorus (or Bosporus), also known as the Istanbul Strait, forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia. It is one of the Turkish Straits, along with the Dardanelles. The world's narrowest strait used for international navigation, it connects the Black Sea (on top of the image) with the Sea of Marmara (which is connected by the Dardanelles to the Aegean Sea, and thereby to the Mediterranean Sea).
In 2011, the population of Istanbul is estimated to be ~ 15 million inhabitants (the population triplet within the last 35 years). The image provides urban planners with an overall accurate view of the current growth of the metropolitan areas shown in yellow. Since 1973, the Bosphorus Suspension Bridge has connected the Asian side of the city to the European side, and in 1988 the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge was added. The airport can be seen to the south-west of the city.

• The TerraSAR-X spacecraft and its payload are operating nominally as of 2010.

• In January 2010, imagery of the TerraSAR-X spacecraft as well as optical imagery from other spacecraft was being used by a DLR/DFD analysis team to support the disaster relief activities of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010. Satellite-based maps were generated of the stricken region and provided to the relief organizations via internet. In the absence of any or very little information, the current state of the infrastructure in the capital city of Port-au-Prince was of great service to the relief workers. The quickly generated reference maps were giving an overview of the road network as well as of important buildings and facilities such as the airport as they were before and after the earthquake. 34)

• In October and November 2009, high-resolution TerraSAR-X data were acquired in Antarctica in the left-looking observation mode. The areas of scientific interest were located within glacier basins and ice streams that flow through the Transantarctic Mountains and into the Ross Ice Shelf. Detailed ice velocity patterns on the Nimrod glacier basin and Starshot glacier were studied. 35)

• In the summer of 2009, two years after launch, two dedicated calibration campaigns were performed, one for re-calibration of TerraSAR-X, and one for the experimental DRA (Dual Receive Antenna) mode. The effective and exact calibration techniques already successfully applied for the commissioning of TerraSAR-X in 2007 have been shown once again how accurately the complex TerraSAR-X system can be adjusted. Moreover, deriving the stability of the whole SAR system by real measurements two years after launch, the accuracy could be improved further on. - In total, 40 campaigns against reference targets and about 150 acquisitions across the Amazon rainforest were successfully executed and evaluated. The stability and the accuracy of the whole TerraSAR-X system and especially the radar instrument itself is still of unprecedented quality. 36)

In particular, the radiometric stability could be derived by real measurements, i.e. by a comparison of measurements performed in summer 2009 with those performed during the commissioning phase in 2007. The slight offset of only 0.15 dB over a period of two year is more than 10 times better than the requirement with 0.5 dB over six month. This improves also the specified absolute radiometric accuracy down to 0.39 dB for StripMap and down to 0.52 dB for ScanSAR basic products.

• In 2009, the measurement of ground object motions with the SAR ATI (Along-Track Interferometry) data acquisition capability was demonstrated from a spaceborne SAR instrument in different contexts, two typical applications are traffic flows and water surface currents. 37) 38)

- With regard to traffic flow, the focus lies on detecting a number of small (compared to the image resolution) separate moving objects to derive traffic information for a whole area or larger sections of a road network from it. With its large-area data acquisition and weather and daylight independence, SAR offers great potential to augment existing networks of traffic sensors or sometimes to be the only source of traffic data. For traffic measurements, the task is to detect objects of interest at first within the clutter and then to estimate their velocity and true position. Typical object velocities range from 10–50 m/s.

- For surface current measurements (on larger water bodies), the velocities are 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller. Here no detection is needed, because we deal with a distributed radar target of large extent and of more or less known position.

An automatic traffic data extraction system with near-real time (NRT) capability was developed. This TTP (TerraSAR-X Traffic Processor) includes SAR focussing, vehicle detection and measurement for public roads as well as the generation of an easily distributable traffic data product. The TTP makes use of GIS data at different stages of processing. Road data are extracted from a data base for the processed scene and enable to restrict processing to only relevant image areas, to enhance moving object signatures by adaptive filtering of the SAR data and to provide velocity measurements for detected objects based on azimuth displacement. Vehicles are extracted using a combination of ATI and DPCA detectors.

• The TerraSAR-X spacecraft and its payload are operating nominally in 2009. 39) 40) 41) 42)

- Spacecraft and ground segment are fully operational

- Image products (Spotlight, Stripmap, ScanSAR) are calibrated and released. The product quality is within initial specification or better

- Operation of the SAR instrument proved to be very stable

- Demonstrations accomplished: Repeat pass interferometry, along-track interferometry, persistent scatterer evaluation, TOPSAR (while TOPSAR was demonstrated, implementation is pending), total zero Doppler steering, and demonstration of quadpol mode.

- Demonstration of quadpol mode

- The use of TerraSAR-X data was demonstrated for geo-scientific applications, oceanography and disaster monitoring during commissioning phase.

LCTSX (LCT on TerraSAR-X) FSO (Free Space Optics) communication demonstrations: In a series of ISL (Intersatellite Link) tests that began in Jan./Feb. 2008 (and continued for several months), the LCT (Laser Communication Terminal) on TerraSAR-X as well as the one flown on the DoD NFIRE (Near Field Infrared Experiment) spacecraft, have exchanged data simultaneously at rates of 5.625 Gbit/s ((equivalent to ~200,000 A4-pages per second). According to Tesat-Spacecom GmbH, it has taken < 25 seconds , on average, for the terminals to lock onto each other and begin transmissions. A key feature of the system is its ability to establish and maintain a link, even when the sun is directly behind the target spacecraft. 43) 44) 45) 46) 47)

The first LEO-LEO intersatellite link was performed above the Pacific Ocean near Central America as shown in Figure 20. Continuous free-space optical transmissions were maintained for as long as the two spacecraft were within line-of-sight position of each other (both spacecraft in LEO) amounting to about 20 minutes on an average pass. On these free-space transmissions, the measured BER (Bit Error Rate) was < 10-9. Since the NFIRE spacecraft is not producing its own imagery, a closed-loop link was configured where the data from TerraSAR-X was directly re-transmitted from NFIRE to establish “duplex operations” at 5.625 Gbit/s. - Further tests are planned with transmissions to ground stations in Germany and in Spain.


Figure 20: Schematic view of the changing optical link path pattern in the first ISL between two LEO spacecraft (image credit: Tesat-Spacecom, Ref. 45)

The orbits of the two LEO satellites (TerraSAR-X and NFIRE) propagated in opposite directions to each other. This required the LCT to track its counter terminal across an azimuth range of about 80º. The elevation range was about 10º. The link distance varied between 3,700 km and 4,700 km, with a maximum range rate of 8,500 m/s.

The counter LCT was visible for 217 s. Spatial acquisition started after 42 s with uncertainty cones of 530 µrad and 1000 µrad and was closed after 13 s. It took 28 s to lock the phases for homodyne BPSK. The ISL communication with a bit error rate better than 10-9 lasted for 134 s until the counter LCT was no longer visible.

As was verified in later experiments the pointing accuracy of the LCT allows to close spatial acquisition between NFIRE and TerraSAR-X significantly faster than 10 s. Frequency acquisition has been optimized to lock the phases within 20 s. The bit error rate was always is better than 10-9.

TOR (Tracking, Occultation and Ranging) payload: The TOR radio occultation measurements were activated permanently onboard TerraSAR-X on Feb. 16, 2009.

- The IGOR receiver of TOR was powered up shortly shortly after deployment of the TerraSAR-X mission delivering continuously tracking data for POD (Precise Orbit Determination) support. From independent precise orbit computations performed by GFZ and DLR, a 3D accuracy of < 10 cm can be estimated from comparisons of SLR data that are globally distributed. The IGOR derived orbit fits better than 4 cm with laser ranging residuals. 48) 49)

- The radio occultation measurements (TOR-RO) were enabled for a test period of 4 weeks from January 15 through February 15, 2008. This campaign yielded a daily total of about 250 neutral atmospheric profiles for temperature and humidity as well as additional ionospheric data of the vertical electron density distribution.

- SLR measurements tracking the TerraSAR-X spacecraft are being regularly performed by the global SLR community. The ranging campaign yielded a total of 735 laser passes for a period between June 16, 2007 and Oct. 1, 2007. Single shot accuracies of 3-4 cm are being reported from the especially equipped ground station at Graz, Austria.

A bistatic X-band experiment was successfully performed in early November 2007 (Figure 21). TerraSAR-X (TSX) was used as transmitter and DLR's new airborne radar system F-SAR, which was programmed to acquire data in a quasi-continuous mode to avoid echo window synchronization issues. The F-SAR system was used as bistatic receiver in this configuration. Precise phase and time referencing between both systems, which is essential for obtaining high resolution SAR images, was derived during the bistatic processing. The experiment was considered a success after data analysis. 50) 51)

For the first time, a spaceborne-airborne X-band acquisition has been successfully conducted, including high-resolution SAR processing. The bistatic image shows an improved resolution, SNR and no range ambiguities, as well as a different perspective of the imaged scene.


Figure 21: View of the backward scattering configuration (not drawn to scale) of the bistatic TSX / F-SAR experiment (image credit: DLR)

• A successful ORR (Operational Readiness Review) of TerraSAR-X took place on Dec. 13-14, 2007 with all systems tested and validated - and with nominal operations of the spacecraft. The mission was officially declared operational as of Jan. 7, 2008. Scientists and engineers from DLR and EADS Astrium have spent the past few months calibrating and commissioning the satellite . They appear to be completely satisfied with the exceptional performance of the TerraSAR-X system. It turned out that the commissioning phase was completed successfully right on schedule. 52) 53) 54)

- The results of calibrating TerraSAR-X approve the accuracy calculated before launch and put the described strategy to calibrate efficiently a multiple mode SAR system like TerraSAR-X on a solid base. The key element of this strategy is an antenna model approach and TerraSAR-X is the first SAR satellite calibrated with this innovative method. It has been shown that all calibration systems are working very well. The stability and accuracy of the system and especially the radar instrument itself is of unprecedented quality. - All requirements and/or goals have been achieved even better than predicted. By this successful demonstration of an effective and exact calibration technique a new benchmark has been settled not only for calibrating complex SAR systems but in principle for future highly accurate spaceborne SAR sensors like TanDEM-X or Sentinel-1. 55)

- The SAR products were operationally released 5.5 months after launch. This was possible due to an intensive combined test program of the ground segment and the space segment. The CP (Commissioning Phase) planning tool allowed flexible planning and re-planning throughout the CP. Over 12000 DTs (Data Takes), i.e. scenes, were acquired and processed.

- The main objectives of the CP were the calibration and verification of the entire SAR system chain in order to achieve the specified SAR image and product quality as well as the operationalization and validation of the ground segment functions. This involved in particular the tuning and adjustment of the TMSP (TerraSAR-X Multi-Mode SAR Processor) to meet the in-orbit data characteristics and to optimize the SAR focusing results. The TMSP consistently generates phase-preserving SSC (Single-look Slant-range Complex) data sets from the imaging modes Stripmap, ScanSAR and Spotlight for all specified polarization modes. Derivation of multi-look detected products (MGD, GEC and EEC) is based on SSCs as an interim production stage, depicted in Figure 22. 56)


Figure 22: Overview of the TMSP processing concept (image credit: DLR)

• Demonstration of the novel TOPSAR (Terrain Observation with Progressive Scan) SAR operations support mode concept on TerraSAR-X (on behalf of ESA). The TOPSAR technique employs a very simple counter-rotation of the radar beam in the opposite direction to a “spot observation”; hence, the name TOPS (Terrain Observation with Progressive Scan). The first TOPSAR images and interferometric results were demonstrated on the TerraSAR-X spacecraft during the commissioning phase in the fall of 2007. TerraSAR-X was able to provide this demonstration because its TSX-SAR instrument because it was able to electronically steer the antenna azimuth pattern. This capability, together with the high flexibility of the satellite commanding, provided the opportunity to implement on the satellite the TOPSAR acquisition mode. 57) 58)

Note: TOPSAR is an ESA-proposed acquisition mode for wide swath imaging which aims at reducing the drawbacks of the ScanSAR mode. The basic principle of TOPSAR is the shrinking of the azimuth antenna pattern (along-track direction) as seen by a target on ground. This is obtained by steering the antenna in the opposite direction as for Spotlight. The TOPSAR mode is intended to replace the conventional ScanSAR mode. The technique aims at achieving the same coverage and resolution as ScanSAR, but with a nearly uniform SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio) and DTAR (Distributed Target Ambiguity Ratio). 59) 60) 61)

The TOPSAR technique will be used by the ESA Sentinel-1 C-SAR sensor. The Sentinel-1 spacecraft is part of the Copernicus (formerly GMES space component) in its main interferometric wideswath mode (planned launch in 2014).


Figure 23: TOPS interferometric phase image over the Uyuni salt lake, Bolivia (image credit: DLR, Ref. 13)

Legend to Figure 23: Two TOPS data takes have been acquired over a flat and high coherent region. The chosen area is the Uyuni salt lake, Bolivia, one of the largest in the world. The data takes were recorded on October 10th, 2007 and October 21st, 2007.
The first data take is shown on the image on the left. The image on the right shows the interferogram generated by combining both acquisitions. With TerraSAR-X the TOPS mode and TOPS interferometry were demonstrated for the first time.

• Contact with the spacecraft was established shortly after launch. All systems are functioning nominally. Just four days after the launch, brilliant first satellite images have been received (June 19, 2007). All standard imaging modes (strip, spot & scan) were exercised in this early phase. Hence, LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit Phase) was successfully completed on June 21, 2007. Thereafter, TerraSAR-X was put into its commissioning phase; it was expected to remain in this status until the end of 2007.


Figure 24: The first TerraSAR-X image of the Tsimlyanskoye reservoir, Russia, taken on June 19, 2007 (image credit: DLR)

Some notes to Figure 24: In the upper half of the image, the Tsimlyanskoye reservoir can be seen. Here the River Don is dammed with the water being used for power generation. In the upper right corner of the image, a channel with a weir is visible. In the immediate neighborhood, the meandering oxbow river bends can be seen as dark surfaces. Calm water surfaces are typically very dark in radar photographs, since the radar radiation hitting them is reflected away. In the center-left of the image, a railway bridge over the River Don can be seen with the railway line disappearing towards the northwest. 62)

In the lower half, large, agricultural areas dominate. The fields form regular patterns, meandering tributaries can be seen. The different brightnesses result from the varying vegetation and the particular stages of their annual growth cycles.

During this survey, a thick cloud cover prevailed. Nevertheless, radar satellites such as TerraSAR-X offer imaging capability even in case of cloudy skies and at night. However, exceptional strong precipitation events like heavy thunderstorms may influence even radar imaging. Such an event can be seen at the upper left part of the radar image as a bright ”veil”.



TerraSAR-X sensor complement (TSX-SAR, TOR, LRR, LCT):

TSX-SAR (TerraSAR-X SAR instrument). TSX-SAR is an active phased array X-band antenna system providing high-resolution and multipolarization SAR imagery (H and V), permitting the operational modes of “stripmap,” “spotlight,” and “scanSAR.” The beam-forming capability and quality of the active phased array technology introduces a range of flexibility, permitting the acquisition of high-resolution imagery as well as of wide-swath imagery. The active phased array front-end is structured in azimuth direction (along-track) into three antenna leafs, each comprised of four antenna panels. One antenna panel is made up of 32 active sub-arrays in elevation, each comprising an HP (Horizontal Polarization) and a VP (Vertical Polarization) slotted waveguide radiator. Each of the 384 sub-arrays (32 x 12) is equipped with a T/R (Transmit/Receive) module - also referred to as TRM. The dual-polarized waveguide radiator allows the polarization selection via a polarization switch in the T/R module (TRM). In toggle mode it can switch the polarization from pulse to pulse. This allows for simultaneous acquisition of two image polarizations. 63) 64) 65) 66) 67) 68) 69) 70)

The front-end is controlled by ACE (Antenna Control Electronics), providing programmable real-time control of the antenna beam shape, pointing and polarization in transmission, and reception. For each commanded antenna beam, one of 256 stored elevation beam configurations is combined with one of 256 azimuth beam configurations; the resulting excitation coefficients are transferred to the T/R modules. Beam steering in azimuth (± 0,75º) and elevation (± 20º) is performed by ACE, which provides programmable real-time control of antenna beam shape, pointing and polarization in transmission and reception. The switching of a antenna beam can take place at a maximum rate of 275 Hz. ACE is controlled by CE (Control Electronics), consisting of DCE (Data & Control Electronics), ICU (Instrument Control Unit) and RFE (Radio Frequency Electronics). RFE contains the USO (Ultra Stable Oscillator), the up- and down conversion and preamplifying stages and provides programmable signals for internal calibration. CE provides the following functions:

• Generation and transmission of the Tx signal

• Reception and A/D conversion of the Rx signal

• SAR data buffering, compression and formatting

• Instrument timing and control.

The transmit signal is produced in a digital chirp generator. An AWG (Arrayed Waveguide Grating) writes up to 8 different waveforms of commanded length and a bandwidth of up to 300 MHz in a waveform memory. One of these 8 waveforms is selected for each pulse and can be switched from pulse to pulse. In the receive path, one of three anti-aliasing filters which is matching to the ADC sampling rates of 110, 165 or 330 MHz, can be selected. The data are compressed online with a BAQ algorithm, after the time extension buffering. The BAQ processing works on blocks of 128 consecutive samples with a selectable compression rate of 8 to 4, 3, 2 bits per sample. A transparent mode also allows to bypass the data compression.


Figure 25: Functional block diagram of the TSX-SAR instrument (image credit: DLR, EADS) 71)


Figure 26: Illustration of a SAR antenna panel (image credit: EADS Astrium)


Figure 27: RF architecture of the XFE (X-band T/R Frontend) of TSX-SAR (image credit: EADS Astrium)


Figure 28: TerraSAR-X T/R Frontend (image credit: EADS Astrium)

The TSX-SAR instrument elements are fully redundant, i.e. a main and a redundant functional chain exists. This feature makes it possible to activate both functional chains at the same time, one being the master for timing purposes, thus permitting operations in an experimental DRA (Dual Receive Antenna) mode where the echoes from the azimuth antenna halves can be received and then separated during ground processing, e.g. to serve the application of ATI (Along Track Interferometry). For ATI support the SAR antenna can be grouped into two segments, each of 2.4 m. 72) 73) 74)


Figure 29: Illustration of DRA mode scheme (image credit: DLR)

Due to the bistatic configuration (one transmitting antenna, two receiving antenna elements), the effective ATI baseline is half antenna separation, i.e. 1.2 m, which corresponds to a time lag of 0.17 ms. Ideal ATI time lags for oceanic current measurements at X-band should be on the order of a few milliseconds, i.e. about 20 times longer than this; thus, the sensitivity of TSX-SAR to small current variations will be quite low. The ATI feature permits the measurement of surface currents with a spatial resolution of about 1 to 2 km. 75)





Antenna type

Active phased array

Beam scan angle range

±0.75º (az), ±19.2º (el.)

X-band center frequency

9.65 GHz (3.1 cm wavelength)

Incidence angle access range

15º - 60º

Antenna aperture size

4.8 m x 0.8 m x 0.15 m

Radiated peak power

2260 W

Phase centers

12 (az.) x 32 (el.)

Stripmap duty cycle

18% (on transmit)

Polarization modes

(single or dual)

Spotlight duty cycle

20% (on transmit)

System noise figure

5.0 dB

Operational PRF range

3000 - 6500 Hz

Selectable BAQ compression rates

8 to 4, 3, 2, by-pass

ADC sampling rates (8 bit, I&Q)

110, 165, 330 MHz

Max receive duty cycles

100%, 67%, 33%

Chirp bandwidth range

5 - 300 MHz

SSMM (Solid State Mass Memory) capacity

320 Gbit (BOL),
256 Gbit (EOL)

TSX-SAR instrument mass

394 kg

Quantization of signal

8 bit I, 8 bit Q

SAR data compression

online BAQ

Nominal look direction

Right side of groundtrack

Yaw steering


Table 3: TSX-SAR instrument parameters

TSX-SAR provides a variety of Spotlight, Stripmap and ScanSAR image products. The full operator access to the active phased array antenna together with the 300 MHz mode allows for a large number of custom-designed high-performance image products. 76)

The spotlight mode is realized on a “sliding spotlight operation” concept. 77) Compared to starring spotlight operation, sliding spotlight has the advantage of more uniform NESZ (Noise Equivalent Sigma Zero) performance achieved in along-track direction due to the averaging of the gain variation of the main beam in azimuth. The signal bandwidth is maintained constant for the whole incidence angle range in order to provide a constant slant range resolution.

Parameter/Operational mode

HS mode

SL mode

Experimental Spotlight

Stripmap mode (SM)

ScanSAR mode (SC)

Resolution, cross-track
Resolution, along-track

2 m
1 m

2 m
1 m

1 m
1 m

3 m
3 m

16 m
16 m

Product coverage, (km)
along-track x cross-track

5 x 10

10 x 10

5 x 10

≤ 1500x 30

≤ 1500x 100

Access range of incidence angles (full performance)

2 x 463 km

2 x 463 km

2 x 463 km

2 x 287 km

2 x 287 km

Access range of incidence angles (data collection)

2 x 622 km

2 x 622 km

2 x 622 km

2 x 622 km

2 x 577 km

Sensitivity NESZ

- typical
- worst case


-23 dB
-19 dB


-23 dB
-19 dB


-20 dB
-16 dB


-22 dB
-19 dB


-21 dB
-19 dB

DTAR ambiguity ratio

< -17 dB

< -17 dB

< -17 dB

< -17 dB

< -17 dB

Source data rate, (8/4 BAQ)

340 Mbit/s

340 Mbit/s

680 Mbit/s

580 Mbit/s

580 Mbit/s

Table 4: Performance overview of the TSX-SAR instrument products

The primary image performance parameters, provided in Table 4, are NESZ (Noise Equivalent Sigma Zero) and DTAR (Distributed Target Signal to Ambiguity Ratio). They show performance variations within the image as well as over the incidence angle range. NESZ is that value of sigma nought (σo) of a uniform scene that produces a processor output signal to noise of unity. The “access range” is the cross-track accessible (viewable) range on the ground provided by electronic beam steering. The instantaneous range of TSX-SAR is e.g. 30 km (max) in stripmap mode and 100 km for ScanSAR mode. In Stripmap operation, the synthetic aperture is typically given by the -3dB beamwidth of the antenna azimuth pattern defining the processed Doppler bandwidth. In order to provide sufficient performance swath width near nadir, a broadening of the elevation beamwidth is needed. This is achieved by amplitude/phase tapering of the active antenna. 78)

TSX-SAR operations and support modes:

• TSX-SAR is capable to image on either side of the subsatellite track, this is accomplished by a roll maneuver of the spacecraft. The S/C roll feature extends the FOR (Field of Regard) of the instrument for possible event coverage. However, observations to the right side of the subsatellite track are considered to be the preferred (and default) operations mode, due to power constraints in the left-side configuration (the solar array isn't pointing into the sun anymore; also, the communications link to the ground is obstructed).

• There are also experimental dual-receive modes for wide bandwidth (300 MHz), providing even higher resolution, as well as for full polarization and along-track interferometry (ATI), the latter two being achieved by splitting the receive antenna into two azimuth halves (split-antenna stripmap mode). The dual-receive mode provides the potential for ATI velocity measurements of ocean currents, and a full polarimetric mode, by receiving simultaneously the H and V components with the two apertures (the dual-receive mode is also being used to demonstrate traffic velocity measurements on highways). The redundancy concept in the TerraSAR-X receiving chain and the front-end design offer the possibility to use the second spare receiving channel in parallel to the main receiving channel.

• Capability of repeat-pass as well as Along Track Interferometry (ATI)

Support of four imaging modes: Stripmap, ScanSAR, High-resolution Spotlight, and Spotlight 79) 80) 81)

- SM (Stripmap Mode). The ground swath is illuminated with a continuous sequence of pulses while the antenna beam is fixed in elevation and azimuth. This results in an image strip with continuous image quality in azimuth.

- SC (ScanSAR Mode). SC mode provides a large area coverage. The wider swath is achieved by scanning several adjacent ground sub-swaths with simultaneous beams, each with a different incidence angle. Due to the reduced azimuth bandwidth the azimuth resolution of a ScanSAR product is lower than in StripMap mode.


Figure 30: Overview of the TerraSAR-X scanning modes (image credit: DLR)

- HS (High-resolution Spotlight Mode). HS provides the highest geometrical resolution. Therefore the size of the observed area on ground is smaller than the one in all other modes. During the observation of a particular ground scene the radar beam is steered like a spotlight so that the area of interest is illuminated longer and hence the synthetic aperture becomes larger. The Maximum azimuth steering angle range is ± 0.75º.

- SL (Spotlight Mode). The HS and SL modes are very similar. In SL mode the geometric azimuth resolution is reduced in order to increase the azimuth scene coverage.

• The instrument features selectable or dual polarization (support of single, dual and full polarization modes). Further flexibility is provided by the large number of possible antenna beam configurations. The number of beams in elevation for SM or SC support is about 12. The number of beams in elevation for HS or SL support is about 95.

- Single polarization: The radar transmits either H or V polarized pulses and receives in H or V polarization. The resulting product will consist of one polarimetric channel in one of the combinations HH, HV, VH or VV. It can be operated in all different modes HS, SL, SM and SC.

- Dual polarization: In this mode the radar toggles the transmit and/or receive polarization on a pulse to pulse basis. The effective PRF in each polarimetric channel is half of the total PRF, which means that the azimuth resolution is slightly reduced. The polarimetric phase between both channels can be exploited, e.g. for interferometry or classification purposes. The product consists of two layers that can be selected out of the possible combinations. Dual polarization is possible for all image modes as well.

- Quad polarization: Quad polarization is possible in the experimental dual receive antenna mode as the signal can be received simultaneously in H and V polarization. By sending alternating H and V pulses, the full polarimetric matrix can be obtained. Currently quad-polarization is not operationally foreseen (only research support).

• Left or right side observation capability (Figure 30). The slew capability of TerraSAR-X spacecraft allows observations to be conducted on either side of the sub-satellite track. This feature is of great value for event monitoring - doubling in effect the FOR (Field of Regard).

TSX-SAR instrument calibration:

The calibration process transforms the image magnitude or power into the required physical units, which are assumed to be those of radar cross section (RCS) or back-scattering coefficient σo (sigma-zero, radar cross section per unit illuminated area). Three major tasks are being performed by the calibration as illustrated in Figure 32: 82) 83) 84) 85) 86) 87)

- Internal calibration: The compensation of instrument fluctuations. This is performed by in-orbit verification of the instrument against pre-flight results. This internal calibration yields a stabilized radar instrument and defines the radiometric stability.

- Antenna pattern calibration: The compensation of the antenna pattern within the SAR scene in order to obtain a constant gain across the whole SAR image. This is performed by a determination/estimation of the actual antenna pattern. We thus obtain relatively calibrated SAR data products and the relative radiometric accuracy.

- External calibration: The correction of the radiometric bias. This is performed by measuring the radar system against standard ground targets with known radar cross section (RCS). This external calibration yields to an absolute calibrated radar system and defines the absolute radiometric accuracy.


Figure 31: Illustration of the challenge involved in calibrating a multiple-mode, high-resolution SAR such as TerraSAR-X (image credit: DLR)


Figure 32: Overview of the calibration concept (image credit: DLR)

The internal calibration facility of TSX-SAR monitors the critical elements of the XFE (X-band Front-end), consisting of the 384 T/R modules (TRMs) of the active phased array. Each module is feeding a radiating sub-array for horizontal and vertical polarization - controlling the beam steering in azimuth and elevation direction. Three different types of calibration pulses are applied, whereby sets of these pulses are needed at the start and end of each data take. All calibration pulses have the same length and bandwidth (chirp) as is commanded for the mode.

Precise modelling of the antenna is only possible if the actual characteristics of each individual transmit/receive module (TRM) are known. A calibration network (CAL N/W) records the internal instrument behavior characterizing the instrument stability over time. The antenna performance can be monitored with an innovative characterization mode based on the so-called PN-gating method. 88)


Figure 33: The XFE of TSX-SAR with 4 of 384 TRMs - the calibration signal is routed via couplers at the TRMs and the CAL N/W, (image credit: DLR)

The essential TSX-SAR calibration facilities/references are:

• Standard ground target monitoring for the bias correction

• Ground receivers for in-flight measurements

• Different analysis and evaluation tools

- The antenna pattern model providing an estimation of the actual antenna pattern

- SARCON (SAR Product Control Software), for the point target and distributed target analysis of different calibration targets.

Introduction of new SAR calibration technology: 89)

Due to the multitude of operational modes based on the active phased antenna array with hundreds of T/R modules, a large number of different antenna beams are obtained (some 10,000 for TSX-SAR). For this situation, a conventional calibration approach is not feasible. Hence, DLR/HR developed innovative and efficient calibration methods for the TSX-SAR instrument. The two most important innovations are:

- PN-gating (Pseudo Noise-gating), a new method for internal calibration. PN-gating is a technique of monitoring the gain and phase variations in the transmit and receive paths of individual T/R modules while all 384 modules are operating - representing a characterization under the most realistic conditions with the advantage that all modules can be characterized simultaneously. For this purpose, the instrument is operated in a special module characterization mode. The simulated results of the PN-gating method are very promising (confirmed by ground tests).

- A precise antenna model, based on a new antenna pattern optimization. The modular nature of an active phased array antenna provides the capability of mathematical modeling. Such an antenna model is in fact a software tool that accurately determines the antenna beam patterns based on detailed characterization of the antenna hardware and the knowledge of the antenna control parameters. To achieve the required radiometric quality, highly accurate pre-launch characterization data was needed. After pre-launch validation against the near field pattern measurements and in-flight verification, the antenna model is being used to generate the in-orbit calibrated beam patterns required for radiometric corrections in the SAR processing throughout the satellite lifetime. The antenna model is capable of accurately determining not only the individual beam patterns, but also the relative gain variations from beam to beam. Determination of the absolute gain from measurements over external calibration targets can then be reduced to a few beams. In order to maintain the SAR antenna performance, the following steps are implemented into the TSX-SAR calibration system:

• Compensation of radar instrument drift with the help of internal calibration

• Individual TRM (T/R Module) characterization by using the novel PN-gating method.

The internal calibration facility features a coupling into an additional port of each TRM as shown in Figure 33. Calibration pulses are routed through the XFE to characterize critical elements of the transmit (Tx) and receive (Rx) path. The acquired signals can only be measured at the composite ports of the distribution networks. Three different types of calibration pulses are applied, whereby sets of these pulses are needed at the start and end of each data acquisition. All calibration pulses have the same length and bandwidth as the transmit pulse commanded for the mode. In orbit, absolute power level degradation is calibrated via external targets like transponders or corner reflectors. Thus, only relative characterization results are of interest.

The calibration pulses are applied to the XFE to characterize the instrument influence on the radar signal. The three types of calibration pulses account for the transmit path, the receive path, and for differences in the routing of the first two pulse types. The acquired signals can be measured at the receiving ports of the distribution networks. Evaluating the amplitude and phase of the calibration signals provides information how to model the instrument drift during data acquisition. This drift is corrected during SAR image processing to obtain the high-quality SAR products.

The spaceborne results from repeated measurements of the same instrument and antenna conditions prove the high measurement accuracy of the PN-gating technique. The repeated measurements were in a time frame of weeks. Still, the accordance of the estimation results to each other is almost perfect.


Figure 34: Block diagram of the antenna pattern subsystem (image credit: DLR)

Calibration results: During the commissioning phase, the baseline calibration procedure approach of TSX was subdivided into six major tasks. The successive baseline calibration procedures were: 90) 91) 92)

• Geometric calibration, to assign the SAR data to the geographic location on the Earth's surface.

• Antenna pointing determination, to obtain a correct beam pointing of the antenna.

• Antenna model verification, to ensure the provision of the antenna patterns of all operation modes and the gain offset between different beams.

• Relative radiometric calibration, for radiometric correction of SAR data within an illuminated scene.

• Absolute radiometric calibration, for measuring the SAR system against standard targets with well known radar cross section (RCS).

The results of calibrating TerraSAR-X approve the accuracy calculated before launch and put the new strategy to calibrate efficiently a multiple mode SAR system like TerraSAR-X on a solid base. The key element of this strategy was an antenna model approach. TerraSAR-X is the first SAR satellite calibrated with this innovative method.

All requirements and/or goals have been achieved even better than predicted. By this successful demonstration of an effective and exact calibration technique, a new benchmark has been reached not only for calibrating complex SAR systems but in principle for future highly accurate spaceborne SAR sensors like TanDEM-X or Sentinel-1 (Ref. 90).

SAR interferometry:

TerraSAR-X offers a number of new perspectives to SAR interferometry when compared to ERS and also to Envisat: 93)

• High resolution of 3 m or better in stripmap and spotlight mode

• The option for a burst synchronized scanSAR mode

• The high range bandwidth will allow large baselines and the option for highly precise DEM generation

• X-band will show new scattering properties

• High observation frequency due to the short repeat cycle and variable incidence

• An ATI (Along Track Interferometric) mode.

The rather short orbit repeat cycle of 11 days and the electronically steerable antenna allow fast and frequent imaging of a certain site. At average latitudes an interferometric pair can be acquired within only 12 days. And within 22 days 12 interferometric pairs with different observation geometries can theoretically be acquired. Note that the nominal antenna look direction is to the right. The left-looking mode is possible but has some operational deficiencies so that it will only be used in high priority situations.



Secondary payloads of TerraSAR-X (TOR, LRR, LCT)

TOR (Tracking, Occultation and Ranging)

The TOR experiment is furnished by GFZ Potsdam, Germany. and CSR (Center of Space Research) at UTA (University of Texas at Austin), USA. The TOR payload consists of the dual-frequency GPS receiver IGOR (Integrated GPS Occultation Receiver), developed and built by Broad Reach Engineering Company of Tempe, AZ, and LRR (Laser Retro Reflector) for evaluation of GPS-based orbit data as an independent tracking technique. The IGOR design of is of BlackJack heritage of NASA/JPL, flown on such missions as CHAMP, SAC-C, Jason-1, and GRACE. - The overall objectives are: 94) 95)

1) To collect atmospheric and ionospheric radio occultation (RO) data using IGOR and to augment the global RO data sets obtained from other LEO satellites (namely CHAMP and GRACE) to be used for improvements of numerical weather forecasts, climate change studies and space weather monitoring. Derived fundamental atmospheric and ionospheric quantities (e.g. temperature, water vapor) are being used as complementary information for SAR data error correction.

2) Use of the resulting high-quality orbit and atmospheric correction products in conjunction with DLR-provided TSX-SAR data for improved analysis. Specific objectives for the TSX-SAR science studies are:

- Landslide, rock fall and urban land subsidence

- Ice sheet applications

- TSX-SAR digital terrain model for surface water availability modeling

- Seismic loading cycle studies

3) The IGOR GPS tracking capabilities are being used for ground-based POD (Precise Orbit Determination) algorithm processing with accuracies of < 5 cm in position (IGOR is a 48 channel space qualified GPS receiver). The orbits can be made available within less than 3 hours after data reception and are being used for SAR science analysis and eventually for NWP analysis. 96)

The IGOR payload suite consists of a dual-redundant dual frequency (L1/L2) GPS receiver unit, a built-in SSR(Solid-State Recorder), a built-in PC, and an antenna set comprised of:

• Two POD (Precision Orbit Determination) L1/L2 patch antennas

• Two RO (Radio Occultation) antennas 1x4 L1/L2 patch arrays

The IGOR instrument [GPS, SSR, antennas, PC] consists of a box of size 200 mm x 240 mm x 100 mm with a mass of about 4.2 kg.


Figure 35: The IGOR instrument (image credit: GFZ, Broad Reach Engineering)

The main components of the infrastructure for TerraSAR-X GPS occultations are: the GPS receiver onboard the satellite and the ground segment. It consists of the Polar receiving station at Ny-Ålesund (Spitzbergen), the fiducial GPS ground network, the ultra rapid precise orbit determination facility, the operational occultation processing system and, for archiving and distribution: the TerraSAR-X data Center.

The generation of the TerraSAR-X GPS occultation data products will be performed by an automatic data processing system, which will be based on the CHAMP/GRACE processing system. This system is designed to be extendable for the processing of additional GPS occultation missions, as of TerraSAR-X.

Support mode

Data product



PSO (Precise Science Orbit)

Highly precise orbit generated with a time delay of a few days after request by TOR-SAR for InSAR processing


High-precision regional and local SAR products for the identified SAR analyses of the project team


USO (Ultra-rapid Science Orbit)

Precise orbit delivered with a latency of less than 3 hours after data take for occultation processing

Atmospheric excess phases

Calibrated atmospheric excess phases of the occultation radio link including precise satellite orbit data (position and velocity) for each occultation

Occultation tables

Lists of daily occultation events including additional information as e.g. location and time, duration, satellite and ground station numbers

Atmospheric profiles

Vertical profiles of atmospheric parameters: bending angles, refractivity, pressure, density, temperature from Earth's surface to 40 km height, water vapor up to 20 km

Ionospheric profiles

Vertical profiles of electron density from Earth’s surface to the orbit height of TerraSAR-X


PSO (Precise Science Orbit)

Highly precise orbit generated with a time delay of a few days after request by TOR-SAR for InSAR processing

USO (Ultra-rapid Science Orbit)

Precise orbit delivered with a latency of less than 3 hours after data take for occultation processing

Table 5: Data products of the TOR experiment


Figure 36: Photo of the POD antennas on choke rings during spacecraft integration (image credit: EADS Astrium)


Figure 37: Accommodation of MosaicGNSS and IGOR antennas on the TerraSAR-X spacecraft (image credit: DLR)

Two independent GPS receiver units are used on TerraSAR-X for increased redundancy. For each receiver an independent passive GPS antenna (Seavey SPA-16C/S) and low noise amplifier (Delta Microwave L5690) are employed, which enable representative signal-to-noise ratios (C/N0) of 45 dB-Hz near the boresight direction. To provide an adequate sky coverage during right- and left looking SAR operations, the MosaicGNSS GPS antennas are oriented opposite to the SAR antenna. In the nominal flight configuration (right-looking SAR), the boresight points to the left of the flight direction with a 33.8º offset from the vertical. The IGOR choke ring antennas, in contrast, are exactly zenith pointing (Ref. 17).

LRR (Laser Retro Reflector)

LRR is of CHAMP and GRACE heritage developed at GFZ. A passive optical device for accurate satellite tracking from ground laser ranging stations of the SLR network. SLR tracking to spaceborne laser retro-reflectors is performed by a global network of about 40 ground stations of the ILRS (International Laser Ranging Service). The SLR data provide an independent observation type at a comparable accuracy level to the onboard GPS tracking data for the quality assurance of the TerraSAR-X POD (Precise Orbit Determination).


Figure 38: Illustration of the LRR device (image credit: GFZ Potsdam)

LCT (Laser Communication Terminal)

TSX-LCT is an experimental secondary payload, developed and built by Tesat-Spacecom GmbH of Backnang as prime contractor (formerly Bosch SatCom GmbH; Tesat Spacecom is owned by EADS Astrium), Germany. LCT development contributions come also from EADS Astrium and Zeiss Optronik. LCT funding comes from DLR and from BMBF. The LCT (optical communication) technology and implementation was chosen due to its potential of providing higher data rates, lower mass and lower power than required by conventional RF communications. 97) 98) 99) 100) 101) 102)

The LCT objective is to provide either a bidirectional communications link for binary digital data transfer between two satellites, (like LEO-MEO) or between one satellite and an optical ground station.

LCT on TerraSAR-X, also referred to as LCTSX, is designed as a COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) product and is already being made available to other missions. Tesat-Spacecom provides the full ground test equipment especially the so-called STB (System Test Bed) to verify the complete sequence of LCT operational states from start up over acquisition and tracking to communication under space environment, i.e. link distance, satellite's in-orbit vibrations, sun light. - The intent is to use LCT on future high data rate missions, in Earth observation as well as in commercial communications. 103) 104) 105)


Figure 39: View of the LCTSX instrument (image credit: Tesat-Spacecom)

Background: The on-orbit verification of the first coherent optical communication system on a satellite builds on more than 15 years of European efforts under programs and studies like SOLACOS (Solid State Laser Communications in Space), DLR-LCT, MEDIS (Multimedia Experiment and Demonstration System), and SILEX (Semiconductor Intersatellite Link Experiment). SILEX, an ESA design, was the only project that was realized, with a LEO terminal on SPOT-4 (launch March 24, 1998) and a GEO terminal on ARTEMIS (launch July 12, 2001).
In 1998, Tesat-Spacecom was selected for the Celestri and Teledesic programs by Motorola to build all laser crosslinks for a LEO constellation (in the meantime Teledesic program was cancelled). The laser oscillators, qualified for Teledesic, are now foreseen for many scientific missions like DWL, GIFTS and ALADIN.

Note: LCT is considered the first laser communication system in space that operates on a coherent basis (homodyne digital receiver and BPSK modulation). In a coherent system the receiver operates by optically adding a locally generated field to the receiver field prior to photodetection. The prime objective is to use the added local field to improve the detection of the weaker received field in the presence of the receiver thermal noise. - In contrast, the SILEX concept employs a direct-detection system in which the desired information is intensity modulated onto an optical source and transmitted to the receiver terminal. In this concept, the photodetector at the receiver side provides basically the function of a power detection device. - While coherent detection is the most advanced technology, which enables the maximum data rate at minimum power, but it requires relatively complicated hardware and it cannot be used through atmospheric turbulence.

Homodyne BPSK (Binary Phase Shift Keying) is superior to all other optical modulation schemes since it is the most sensitive for both, tracking and communication. More important, however, is its immunity against sunlight. Homodyne BPSK allows to maintain the communication link, and as a precondition also tracking, even if the sun is in the receiver's field of view.

Homodyne BPSK is based on phase modulation and coherent detection. The signal to be detected is superposed to the beam of a local oscillator laser running on the same frequency as the signal's carrier. With the optical phases of both, signal carrier and local oscillator, being locked to each other one has a sensitive detection and demodulation scheme for the phase signal.

Table 6: Homodyne BPSK optical modulation scheme (Ref. 45)

The same LCT system of Tesat-Spacecom is also flown on the NFIRE (Near Field Infrared Experiment) spacecraft of the US MDA (Missile Defense Agency) of DoD with a launch April 24, 2007 from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, VA (Minotaur vehicle of OSC). The NFIRE spacecraft has been built by General Dynamics C4 Systems of Gilbert, Arizona (formerly SpectrumAstro). LCT is installed on NFIRE as a secondary payload to evaluate laser communication technology. The primary mission of the NFIRE satellite is to collect images of a boosting rocket to improve understanding of exhaust plume phenomenology and plume-to-rocket body discrimination. In addition, forest fires, volcanoes and ground-based rocket engine tests are on NFIRE's observation list for the two-year mission as well.

In a further verification step, an ISL (InterSatellite Link) between LCT on TerraSAR-X and LCT on the NFIRE satellite is planned to be established.





User serial data rate

24 x 225 Mbit/s

Sun passage capability

Communication link maintained when satellites pass in front of sun

Optical serial data rate

5.5 Gbit/s

Operating wavelength

1064 nm

Radiation tolerance

≥ 80 krad

Modulation scheme


Detection scheme

Coherent, homodyne

Pointing range

Complete hemisphere

Instrument mass

25 kg including radiation shielding

Optical output power

0.5 W nominal, switchable to 1 W

Power consumption

35 W (average), < 130 W (max)

Optical interfaces

One common path for transmit & receive beam

Doppler compensation range

±7 km/s line-of-sight velocity

Acquisition scheme

Beaconless, both terminals spatially scanning

Doppler compensation range

≥ 86,000 km
with Frame Unit refitted with new 10 W new amplifier system currently under test
± 7 km / s line-of-sight velocity

BER (Bit Error Rate)

< 10-8 for up to 8,000 km range intersatellite link


< 10-4 for link through atmosphere

Table 7: Performance overview of LCT (Laser Communication Terminal)

Instrument: LCT is accommodated on the anti-sun side of TerraSAR-X to guarantee a free hemispherical FOV which includes the Earth surface. The terminal consists of one physical unit with a mass of about 33 kg and an average power consumption of 136 W. For thermal control reasons, LCT is equipped with a heat pipe radiator having a radiator area of 0.57 m2 and a mass of about 10 kg. Due to an generous energy margin of the spacecraft, LCT can be operated in parallel the TSX-SAR instrument during most of the year.

The instrument is functionally divided into Optics Unit (OU) which includes the coarse pointing mechanism, telescope, fine pointer and receiver and a Frame Unit. The OU (Figure 41) consists of the beam handling elements of the terminal. The CPU (Coarse Pointing Unit) is designed as a stiff lightweight construction to guide incoming and outgoing laser beams from/to its free aperture to the telescope (124 mm aperture diameter). The aperture of the CPU is steered by two independent motors with full pointing, tracking and communications performance over the entire hemisphere. Within the CPU, the beam is being guided by two high precision mirrors keeping track the optical path onto the line-of-sight to the counter terminal. The leaving and received beams have a common path through the telescope (athermal, lightweight) for magnification/demagnification and through the Fine Pointing Unit (FPU).


Figure 40: LCTSX acquisition and communication receive path (image credit: Tesat)


Figure 41: Block diagram of the LCTSX (image credit: DLR)

The FPU employs a high-bandwidth pointing mechanism which provides the necessary tracking gain at frequencies up to 1 kHz in order to cancel satellite vibrations. The receiving beam is then separated from the leaving beam path by a polarization beam splitter and sent to the receiver. The receiver contains the 90º hybrid replacing the optical bench. There the received beam is superposed with a local oscillator laser in order to extract maximum sensitivity for a given received power level. The 90º hybrid has an added functionality of generating four separate beams with 0º, 90º, 180º and 270º relative phase shift. The acquisition, tracking and communications information contained within the four outputs of the 90º hybrid is detected in the photodiode arrays of the electrical front end, where they are immediately preprocessed. Further processing of this information (phase locking, data extraction, tracking servo) is performed by the electronics located in the Frame Unit.

The Frame Unit contains the EPC (Electrical Power Conditioner) for the terminal, the Terminal and PAT (Pointing, Acquisition and Tracking) Controller (TAPCO), data electronics and the Laser Subsystem. The Laser Subsystem contains two highly reliable diode pump modules for pumping two solid-state lasers in NPRO [(Non Planar Ring Oscillator) after Kane, Byer] configuration. One laser serves as transmit laser. The second laser serves as local oscillator and is fed directly to the receiver optical bench. The laser pump modules were developed to a large extent by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) in Aachen, Germany, on behalf of Tesat.


Figure 42: Illustration of the LCT concept (image credit: Tesat-Spacecom)

The LCT equipment employs a high performance PowerPC processor (505 MIPS) which allows to run both tasks, real-time control loops and TM/TC data processing, at the same time on a single computer. It exhibits small dimensions (180 mm x 160 mm x 60 mm) and low mass (1 kg). The power consumption is in the range of 15 W, depending on processor load. The onboard computer provides a variety of hardware interfaces, especially high resolution A/D and D/A interfaces as well as a MIL-STD-1553B interface. Due to its modular software architecture the functionality can be easily adapted to application specific requirements. 106)


Figure 43: The LCT device mounted on the TerraSAR-X spacecraft (image credit: EADS- Astrium)


Figure 44: The LCTSX terminal (image credit: Tesat-Spacecom)


Figure 45: Artist's view of FSO (Free Space Optics) communication demonstrations between TerraSAR-X and NFIRE (image credit: Tesat)



TerraSAR-X ground segment:

The TerraSAR-X ground segment is composed of the following elements: 107) 108) 109)

• DLR/GSOC is providing the functions of spacecraft operations (commanding, monitoring, planning & scheduling, orbit and attitude determination, etc.) and data acquisition with ground stations in Weilheim and Neustrelitz. Weilheim is used as TT&C station, while Neustrelitz serves as the central receiving station of payload data at 300 Mbit/s.

• DLR/HR (DLR/Institut für Hochfrequenztechnik und Radar) is providing the IOCS (Instrument Operation and Calibration Segment) function

• PGS (Payload Ground Segment) function. The DLR research functions of data processing, analysis and simulation are provided by DFD (Deutsches Fernerkundungsdatenzentrum) and IMF (Institut für Methodik der Fernerkundung). The DLR Ground Segment provides the main functions Space and Ground Segment planning, orbit control and analysis, spacecraft telemetry reception and command, data reception and archiving, calibration and performance analysis, product generation, delivery and provision of user services.

• EADS Astrium/Infoterra is providing the service infrastructure for commercial data exploitation and customer interfaces. Additional direct payload access stations - commercial partners of Infoterra - are foreseen to extend the baseline receiving station concept.


Figure 46: Direct data reception in the US, Japan, and Germany in 2011 (image credit: Astrium Services, Ref. 11)


Figure 47: Overview of the TerraSAR-X system (image credit: DLR)


Figure 48: Overview of the TerraSAR ground segment (image credit: DLR)


Figure 49: TerraSAR-X project structure and task allocations (image credit: DLR)

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56) H. Breit, B. Schättler, T. Fritz, U. Balss, H. Damerow, E. Schwarz, “TerraSAR-X Payload Data Processing : Results from Commissioning and early Operational Phase,” Proceedings of IGARSS 2008 (IEEE International Geoscience & Remote Sensing Symposium), Boston, MA, USA, July 6-11, 2008

57) Adriano Meta, Pau Prats, Ulrich Steinbrecher, Rolf Scheiber, Josef Mittermayer, “First TOPSAR image and interferometry results with TerraSAR-X,” Fringe 2007 Workshop, ESA/ESRIN. Frascati, Italy, Nov. 26-30, 2007, URL:

58) A. Meta, P. Prats, U. Steinbrecher, J. Mittermayer, R. Scheiber, “TerraSAR-X TOPSAR and ScanSAR comparison,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2008, 7th European Conference on Synthetic Aperture Radar, June 2-5, 2008, Friedrichshafen, Germany

59) F. De Zan, A. M. Monti Guarnieri, “TOPSAR: Terrain Observation by Progressive Scans,” IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Vol. 44, Issue 9, Sept. 2006, pp. 2352-2360

60) D. D'Aria, F. De Zan, D. Giudici, A. Monti Guarnieri, F. Rocca, “Burst-mode SARs for wide-swath surveys,” Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing, Vol. 33, No 1, 2007, pp. 27-38

61) Pau Prats, Luca Marotti, SteffenWollstadt, Rolf Scheiber, “TOPS Interferometry with TerraSAR-X,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2010, 8th European Conference on Synthetic Aperture Radar, June 7-10, 2010, Aachen, Germany

62) S. Buckreuss, R. Werninghaus, W. Pitz, “TerraSAR-X Mission Status,” Proceedings of the International Radar Symposium 2007 (IRS 2007), Cologne, Germany, Sept. 5-7, 2007

63) M. A. K. Biller, U. Hackenberg, R. Rieger, B. Schweizer, M. Wahl, B. Adelseck, H. Brugger, M. Lörcher, “Advanced RF Sensors for SAR Earth Observation using High Precision T/R-Modules,” Proceedings of the Advanced RF Sensors for Earth Observation 2006 (ASRI), Workshop on RF and Microwave Systems, Instruments & Sub-Systems, ESA7ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands, Dec. 5-6, 2006

64) A. Herschlein, C. Fischer, H. Braumann, M. Stangl, W. Pitz, R. Werninghaus, “Development and Measurement Results for TerraSAR-X Phased Array,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2004, Ulm, Germany, May 25-27, 2004

65) U. Hackenberg, M. Adolph, H. Dreher, H. Ott, R. Reber, R. Rieger, B. Schweizer, “T/R-Module for Synthetic Aperture Radar with Polarization Agility,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2004, Ulm, Germany, May 25-27, 2004

66) R. Rieger, B. Schweizer, H. Dreher, R. Reber, M. Adolph, H.-P. Feldle, “Highly Integrated Cost-effective Standard X-Band T/R Module Using LTTC Housing Concept For Automated Production,” Proceedings of. EUSAR 02, Cologne, Germany, June 2002, pp. 303-306

67) A. Herschlein, C. Fischer, H. Braumann, M. Stangl, W. Pitz, R. Werninghaus, “Development and Measurement Results for TerraSAR-X Phased Array,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2004, Ulm, Germany, May 25-27, 2004

68) R. Rieger, H.-P. Feldle, “Advanced T/R Module-Technology for SAR Applications,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2006, Dresden, Germany, May 16-18, 2006

69) W. Pitz, “The TerraSAR-X Satellite,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2006, Dresden, Germany, May 16-18, 2006

70) M. Brandfass, P. Flad, R. Zahn, “Latest Results of the TerraSAR-X Central Electronics,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2006, Dresden, Germany, May 16-18, 2006

71) D. Miller, M. Stangl, R. Metzig, ”On-Ground Testing of TerraSAR-X Instrument,” EUSAR 2006, Dresden, Germany, May 16-18, 2006

72) J. Mittermayer, H. Runge, “Conceptual Studies for Exploiting the TerraSAR-X Dual Receiving Antenna,” IEEE/IGARSS 2003, Toulouse, France, July 21-25, 2003

73) R. Romeiser, H. Breit, M. Eineder, H. Runge, P. Flament, K. de Jong, J. Vogelzang, “On the Suitability of TerraSAR-X Split Antenna Mode for Current Measurements by Along-Track Interferometry,” IEEE/IGARSS 2003, Toulouse, France, July 21-25, 2003

74) R. Romeiser, H. Breit, M. Eineder, H. Runge, ”Demonstration of current measurements from space by along-track SAR interferometry with SRTM data”, in Proceedings of IEEE/IGARSS 2002, Piscataway, N.J., USA, 2002.

75) U. Steinbrecher J. Mittermayer, M. Gottwald, R. Metzig, S. Buckreuß, “New Data Take Commanding Concept for TerraSAR-X Instrument,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2004, Ulm, Germany, May 25-27, 2004

76) S. Lehner, J. Horstmann, J. Schulz-Stellenfleth, “TerraSAR-X for Oceanography: Mission Overview,” Proceedings of IGARSS 2004, Anchorage, AK, USA, Sept. 20-24, 2004

77) J. Mittermayer R. Lord, E. Boerner, “Sliding Spotlight SAR Processing for TerraSAR-X Using a New Formulation of the Extended Chirp Scaling Algorithm,” IGARSS 2003, Toulouse, France, July 21-25, 2003

78) J. Mittermayer, V. Alberga, S. Buckreuss, S. Riegger, “TerraSAR-X: Predicted Performance,” Proc. SPIE 2002, Vol. 4881, Aghia Pelagia, Crete, Greece, September 22-27, 2002.

79) S. Buckreuss, W. Balzer, P. Mühlbauer, R. Werninghaus, W. Pitz, “TerraSAR-X, A German Radar Satellite,” International Radar Symposium (IRS 2003), Dresden, Germany, Sept. 30 - Oct. 2, 2003

80) A. Roth, M. Eineder, B. Schättler, “TerraSAR-X: A New Perspective for Applications Requiring High Resolution Spaceborne SAR Data,” Proceedings of the Joint ISPRS/EARSeL Workshop “High Resolution Mapping from Space 2003,” University of Hannover, Germany, Oct. 6-8, 2003

81) A. Roth, “Scientific Use of TerraSAR-X,” Proceedings of IGARSS 2004, Anchorage, AK, USA, Sept. 20-24, 2004

82) M. Schwerdt, D. Hounam, B. Bräutigam, J.-L. Alvarez-Pérez, “TerraSAR-X: Calibration Concept of a Multiple Mode High Resolution SAR,” Proceedings of IGARSS 2005, Seoul, Korea, July 25-29, 2005

83) M. Schwerdt, D. Hounam, M. Stangl, “Calibration Concept for the TerraSAR-X Instrument,” Proceedings of IGARSS 2003, Toulouse, France, July 21-25, 2003

84) M. Schwerdt, D. Hounam, T. Molkenthin, “Calibration Concepts for Multiple Mode High Resolution SARs like TerraSAR-X,” International Radar Symposium (IRS 2003), Dresden, Germany, Sept. 30 - Oct. 2, 2003

85) R. Lenz, W. Wiesbeck, “The TerraSAR-X active calibration instruments and performance analysis,” Proceedings of IGARSS 2006 and 27th Canadian Symposium on Remote Sensing, Denver CO, USA, July 31-Aug. 4, 2006

86) M. Schwerdt, D. Hounam, J.-L. Alvarez-Pères, T. Molkenthin, “The calibration concept of TerraSAR-X:a multiple-mode, high-resolution SAR,” Canadian Journal of Remote Sensing, Vol. 31, No. 1, 2005, pp. 30-36

87) R. Lenz, W. Wiesbeck, “Overview of the active TerraSAR-X calibrators and first results,” Proceedings of the International Radar Symposium 2007 (IRS 2007), Cologne, Germany, Sept. 5-7, 2007

88) B. Bräutigam, M. Schwerdt, M. Bachmann, “In-flight Monitoring of TerraSAR-X Radar Instrument Stability,” Proceedings of the International Radar Symposium 2007 (IRS 2007), Cologne, Germany, Sept. 5-7, 2007

89) M. Schwerdt, B. Bräutigam, M. Bachmann, T. Molkenthin, D. Hounam, M. Zink, “The Calibration of the TerraSAR-X System,” EUSAR 2006, Dresden, Germany, May 16-18, 2006

90) M. Schwerdt, B. Bräutigam, M. Bachmann, B. Döring, “TerraSAR-X Calibration Results,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2008, 7th European Conference on Synthetic Aperture Radar, June 2-5, 2008, Friedrichshafen, Germany

91) M. Schwerdt, B. Bräutigam, M. Bachmann, B. Döring, D. Schrank, Hueso J. Gonzalez, “Final TerraSAR-X Calibration Results Based on Novel Efficient Methods, IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Vol. 48, Issue 2, 2010, pp. 677-689

92) M. Bachmann, M. Schwerdt, B. Bräutigam, “TerraSAR-X Antenna Calibration and Monitoring Based on a Precise Antenna Model,” IEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing, Vol. 48, Issue 2, 2010, pp. 690-701

93) M. Eineder, H. Runge, E. Boerner, R. Bamler, N. Adam, B. Schättler, H. Breit, S. Suchandt, “SAR Interferometry with TerraSAR-X,” Fringe Workshop 2003, ESA/ESRIN, Frascati, Italy, Dec. 1-5, 2003, URL:

94) Information provided by Christoph Reigber of GFZ, Potsdam

95) O. Montenbruck, J. Williams, T. Wang, G. Lightsey, “Preflight Validation of the IGOR GPS Receiver for TerraSAR-X,” May 2, 2005, URL:

96) O. Montenbruck, Y. Yoon, E. Gill, M. Garcia-Fernandez, “Precise Orbit Determination for the TerraSAR-X Mission, Proceedings of 25th ISTS (International Symposium on Space Technology and Science) and 19th ISSFD (International Symposium on Space Flight Dynamics), Kanazawa, Japan, June 4-11, 2006, paper: 2006-d-58

97) T. Schwander, R. Lange, H. Kämpfner, B. Smutny, “LCTSX: First On-Orbit Verification of a Coherent Optical Link,” Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Space Optics, March 30-April 2, 2004, Toulouse, France, ESA SP-554

98) Information of LCT system provided by Rolf Meyer of DLR, Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany

99) B. Smutny, R. Lange, S. Seel, “Optical Terminals for the European ISS Module Columbus Based on Coherent Detection at 1064 nm,” 20th AIAA International Communication Satellite Systems Conference and Exhibit, May 12-15, 2002, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, AIAA 2002-2035

100) R. Barho, M. Schmid, “Coarse Pointing and Fine Pointing mechanism (CPA and FPA) for an optical communication link,” Proceedings of the 10th European Space Mechanisms and Tribology Symposium, Sept. 24-26, 2003, San Sebastián, Spain.

101) F. David, “Atmospheric turbulence monitoring at DLR,” Proceedings of the 11th SPIE International Symposium on Remote Sensing, Sept. 13-16, 2004, Maspalomas, Gran Canaria, Spain. Vol. 5572, 2004, pp. 10-23

102) T. Schwander, “Truly Hermetically Sealed Lasers for Reliable Long Term Space Operation,” 2nd ESA-NASA Working Meeting on Optoelectronics: Qualification of Technologies and Lessons Learned from Satellite LIDAR and Altimeter Missions,” June 21-22, 2006, ESA/ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands

103) R. Lange, B. Smutny, “Highly-Coherent Optical Terminal Design Status and Outlook,” IEEE LEOS (Laser & Electro-Optics Society) Newsletter, Vol. 19, No, 5, Oct. 2005

104) B. Smutny, “Coherent Laser Communication Terminals,” 14th CLRC (Coherent Laser Radar Conference, Snowmass, CO. USA, July 8-13, 2007

105) Berry Smutny, Hartmut Kaempfner, Gerd Muehlnikel, Uwe Sterr, Bernhard Wandernoth, Frank Heine, Ulrich Hildebrand, Daniel Dallmann, Martin Reinhardt, Axel Freier, Robert Lange, Knut Boehmer, Thomas Feldhaus, Juergen Mueller, Andreas Weichert, Peter Greulich, Stefan Seel, Rolf Meyer, Reinhard Czichy, “5.6 Gbps optical intersatellite communication link,” Proceedings of SPIE, Vol. 7199, San Jose, CA, USA, Jan. 28, 2009, doi:10.1117/12.812209

106) B. Hespeler, R. Braun, D. Dallmann, A. Freier, R. Kurz, “High Performance PowerPC based On-Board Computer Hardware and Software Qualification,” Proceedings of DASIA 2005 (Data Systems in Aerospace), Edinburgh, Scotland, May 30-June 2, 2005

107) S. Buckreuss, P. Mühlbauer, J. Mittermayer, W. Balzer, R. Werninghaus, “The TerraSAR-X Ground Segment,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2006, Dresden, Germany, May 16-18, 2006

108) E. Boerner, R. Lord.., J. Mittermayer., R. Bamler, “Evaluation of TerraSAR-X Spotlight Processing Accuracy based on a New Spotlight Raw Data Simulator,” IEEE/IGARSS 2003, Toulouse, France, July 21-25, 2003

109) R. Werninghaus, “The TerraSAR-X Mission: A German Public-Private Partnership Undertaking,” Proceedings of EUSAR 2006, Dresden, Germany, May 16-18, 2006

The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates.