The Canadian Space Agency launched a revolutionary new satellite on November 4, 1995. This remote sensing satellite, called Radarsat, uses Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology to see in the dark, penetrate fog, and look beyond clouds. Most other satellites, not using radar, depend on sunlight illuminating the Earth in order to obtain useful pictures. Radarsat's SAR uses microwaves and so does not depend on the sun's light, so it can operate day or night, regardless of weather conditions.
In its sun-synchronous orbit, Radarsat covers the Arctic every day, most of Canada every 72 hours, and the entire Earth every 24 days. Since Radarsat covers the Earth so frequently and efficiently, and because it has the ability to take pictures in all weather conditions, the data that Radarsat collects is useful to many people in Canada and worldwide.
Radarsat's images are extremely useful in the Canadian North, for example. The harsh climate and fog in the Arctic regions make maneuvering fishing vessels around moving ice formations very difficult. Accidents are likely to occur. From a satellite, however, it is easy to monitor the movement of large polar icecaps. Because Radarsat clearly maps sea ice distributions, Canadian vessels can now travel those waters more safely. Each province is able to access the information from two ground stations in Gatineau, Quebec.
Radarsat's images can also be used to measure ocean winds and waves. This makes fishing, shipping, oil exploration, off-shore drilling, and ocean research safer and more efficient. Radarsat will be able to detect and monitor oil spills in any of Canada's three oceans.
In addition, Radarsat's images may be used for finding mineral deposits, monitoring agricultural crops for weather damage, or monitoring the disappearance of forests.
Uses for Radarsat's technology extend beyond Canada as well. The advantages it brings will be shared by countries all over the world. For example, many developing countries have made use of the information Radarsat provides. In Vietnam, researchers are monitoring rice growth; in Kenya, coffee growers track plantation changes; and in Jordan, scientists use Radarsat data to help a water harvesting project.
Radarsat is Canada's first non-communications satellite since the ISIS 2 atmospheric studies satellite, launched in 1971. Communications satellites are essential to a country of Canada's large geographic size. Radarsat, though, is now providing another essential service: helping Canada, and other countries as well, monitor valuable natural resources so that they may be safely put to better use.
Click here to learn about Radarsat and remote sensing satellites in more detail.