The conventional method for integrating a radiometer into radar hardware is to share the RF front end between the instruments, and to have separate IF receivers that take data at separate times. Alternatively, the radar and radiometer could share the antenna through the use of a diplexer, but have completely independent receivers. This novel method shares the radar’s RF electronics and digital receiver with t he radiometer, while allowing for simultaneous operation of the ra da r and radiometer.

Radars and radiometers, while often having near-identical RF receivers, generally have substantially different IF and baseband receivers. Operation of the two instruments simultaneously is difficult, since airborne radars will pulse at a rate of hundreds of microseconds. Radiometer integration time is typically 10s or 100s of milliseconds. The bandwidth of radar may be 1 to 25 MHz, while a radiometer will have an RF bandwidth of up to a GHz. As such, the conventional method of integrating radar and radiometer hardware is to share the high-frequency RF receiver, but to have separate IF subsystems and digitizers. To avoid corruption of the radiometer data, the radar is turned off during the radiometer dwell time.

This method utilizes a modern radar digital receiver to allow simultaneous operation of a radiometer and radar with a shared RF front end and digital receiver. The radiometer signal is coupled out after the first down-conversion stage. From there, the radar transmit frequencies are heavily filtered, and the bands outside the transmit filter are amplified and passed to a detector diode. This diode produces a DC output proportional to the input power. For a conventional radiometer, this level would be digitized. By taking this DC output and mixing it with a system oscillator at 10 MHz, the signal can instead be digitized by a second channel on the radar digital receiver (which typically do not accept DC inputs), and can be downconverted to a DC level again digitally. This unintuitive step allows the digital receiver to sample both the radiometer and radar data at a rapid, synchronized data rate (greater than 1 MHz bandwidth).

Once both signals are sampled by the same digital receiver, high-speed quality control can be performed on the radiometer data to allow it to take data simultaneously with the radar. The radiometer data can be blanked during radar transmit, or when the radar return is of a power level high enough to corrupt the radiometer data. Additionally, the receiver protection switches in the RF front end can double as radiometer calibration sources, the short (fourmicrosecond level) switching periods integrated over many seconds to estimate the radiometer offset.

The major benefit of this innovation is that there is minimal impact on the radar performance due to the integration of the radiometer, and the radiometer performance is similarly minimally affected by the radar. As the radar and radiometer are able to operate simultaneously, there is no extended period of integration time loss for the radiometer (maximizing sensitivity), and the radar is able to maintain its full number of pulses (increasing sensitivity and decreasing measurement uncertainty).

This work was done by Matthew McLinden and Jeffrey Piepmeier of Goddard Space Flight Center. GSC-16490-1

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2013 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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