NASA plans to replace ground-based ice-sensing radars with lightweight devices that could monitor glaciers from above.
The space agency awarded a $2.4 million grant to the Georgia Institute of Technology to develop a phased-array radar that can produce 3-D images and is light enough to be mounted on unmanned aircraft. The technology would make it easier — and less expensive — to study ice formations that are indicative of the rate of global climate change.
“What we’re trying to do is make a light, compact radar with organic, commercially available materials,” says John Papapolymerou, a professor at Georgia Tech and a principal investigator on the project. “We’ll be able to determine things like how much water is in the ice — whether it’s dry ice versus whether it’s wet ice.”
Traditional surface radars are bulky and include moving parts, much like the traffic-control radars at airports, Papapolymerou says. The phased-array system will have no mechanical parts and will instead use interconnected antenna elements to send and receive many signals simultaneously.
The technology could have civilian applications, he adds. For example, it could be used to create anti-collision devices in cars.
The researchers plan to deliver a radar prototype to NASA next summer.