DARPA completes flight tests on new cloud-penetrating sensor


The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has conducted tests on a new sensor capable of capturing real-time video through clouds.

The flight tests were carried out under DARPA’s video synthetic aperture radar (ViSAR) programme.

Launched in 2013, the programme is aimed at developing an extremely high frequency (EHF) targeting sensor to operate through clouds as effectively as current electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) sensors operate in clear weather.

The testing took place aboard a modified DC-3 aircraft that flew at low and medium altitudes.

During the tests, researchers could collect and compare data from the ViSAR, EO and IR sensors mounted on standard sensor gimbals.

DARPA Strategic Technology Office programme manager Bruce Wallace said: “The recent flight tests of the ViSAR sensor marked a major programme milestone toward our goal, proving that we can take uninterrupted live video of targets on the ground even when flying through or above clouds.

“The EO/IR sensors on board the test aircraft went blank whenever clouds obscured the view, but the synthetic aperture radar tracked ground objects continuously throughout the flight.”

"Refining the ViSAR sensor’s visualisation software to provide operators a representation they’re used to seeing is the next step in the programme."

The cloud-penetrating EHF sensor in a moveable gimbal can provide high-resolution, full-motion video for engaging moving ground targets in all weather conditions.

Wallace added: “Refining the ViSAR sensor’s visualisation software to provide operators a representation they’re used to seeing is the next step in the programme.

“We don’t want operators in the back of an aircraft to need special radar training to interpret the sensor’s data—we are working to make the visual interface as easy to interpret as existing EO/IR sensor displays.”

DARPA seeks to integrate the sensor into an aircraft that includes a complete battle management system, as part of the next phase of the ViSAR programme.


Image: Photo illustration of the ViSAR system. Photo: courtesy of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.