What Is SAR?


Simply put, there are two technology options for taking satellite pictures of the earth: traditional optical imaging, and synthetic aperture radar (SAR).

Traditional optical imaging technology – as used in digital cameras – requires good light and clear skies. Cloud cover, darkness, smoke and diffused light can cause images to be unclear, or can even obscure subject matter completely.

With SAR technology, on the other hand, you can always capture the images you need – whether day or night, clear or cloudy skies. Simply put, SAR technology builds an image of a given location by bouncing radio waves off the surface of the earth or objects on its surface, and transforming these waves into a digital image.

To put the choice between optical imaging and SAR into perspective, consider this: at any given time it’s too dark to take an optical image of approximately 60% of the earth’s surface. And at any given time approximately 60% of the earth’s surface is covered by clouds. What this adds up to is that with optical imaging technology, as much as three quarters of the earth’s surface is unable to be photographed from above at any given time.

This is why at Iceye we are focused on developing and commercializing synthetic aperture radar technology for satellite imaging. We believe that by making SAR more available and accessible than it has been in the past, we will see the technology being used in entirely new ways.

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Use Cases

arctic_useArctic shipping & resource exploration

Energy companies are increasingly exploring the Arctic for its vast untapped natural resources, while Arctic shipping routes are growing in popularity due to shorter distances to and from the Far East. This means increased traffic in a region that is in total darkness for half the year, with weather patterns that can change quickly and dramatically.

As our name suggests, Iceye’s origins lie in monitoring ice in the Arctic. This activity is of paramount importance for the safety of crews and vessels operating in this uniquely challenging environment, and our clients recognize that SAR is the reliable choice for round-the-clock planning of their offshore operations and shipping routes.


The agricultural industry is often at the mercy of weather, pestilence and other environmental factors that can affect the timeliness and quality of harvests. These factors can be countered by predictions, but current methodologies are often too labor intensive, include a high margin for error, and may come too late to be useful.

Iceye and its partners are changing this. With new prediction models that utilize data provided by Iceye’s SAR imaging, farmers are now better equipped than ever to monitor crop growth, storm damage and pest movement in a bid to ensure more productive harvests.

Rescue_smallRelief & rescue

Time is of the essence in any disaster relief & rescue effort. And satellite imaging can be key in searching accident zones, or in ensuring aid reaches damaged areas and affected people as quickly as possible. So the last thing you want is inclement weather or darkness hampering your remote monitoring efforts. This is why SAR technology is always the better choice.

SAR technology already been on used on the front lines of multiple relief & rescue efforts. This includes providing real-time imagery for monitoring flood damage in China, and using Iceye technology to help aid organizations in Greece to track and reach capsize-prone vessels ferrying migrants across the Mediterranean.

environmentEnvironmental protection

Satellite imaging is a key component of environmental protection, both for monitoring in real time and for measuring the effects over a given period.

SAR technology has already been used in Indonesia to track illegal fishing, which is often done at night when monitoring with traditional optical imaging isn’t possible. SAR can also be used to track the spread of oil spills, assess forest growth or depletion over time, and monitor other factors that may impact the environment.

risk_assessment_smallRisk and damage assessment

Time series SAR images are particularly useful for insurers in assessing environmental risks, such as flooding, while “before and after” SAR imagery can aid in determining the extent of any damage caused by a calamity.

At Iceye we believe there is also a use for SAR imagery in assessing the upside and downside risk associated with day-to-day commerce. For instance, measuring vehicle density at a given shopping mall can help a competing shopping mall to understand it’s relative position in terms of attracting customers. Similar applications of SAR data can help in planning delivery routes, advertising campaigns and other customer-centric operations.

Space-Based SAR

Iceye is currently working towards deploying a constellation of satellites that will provide SAR imaging coverage for the entire globe. More comprehensive, efficient and affordable than any alternative available, our space-based SAR service will drastically shorten the order-to-delivery timeline for SAR images. Iceye customers will also be able to specify with a great degree of accuracy the area they wish to capture an image of, unlike today’s approach to SAR imaging, where a customer typically needs to pay to image an area far larger than that actually required.

Iceye’s flexible pricing model takes into account the size of the area you want to image, how quickly you require delivery, overall system demand, and whether or not the image is already in our archive. This can significantly bring down the cost of gathering SAR data, which we believe will lead to the development of entirely new applications and use cases for SAR.

We aim to launch our space-based SAR imaging service in 2018.

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Aerial-Based SAR

As a precursor to the 2018 launch of our satellite imaging service, during 2016 Iceye aims to begin offering its customers an airplane-based SAR imaging service. Offered on a case-by-case basis, the service is aimed at customers who require a high volume of high-resolution SAR imaging in a given time span over areas where public flights are allowed. Thanks to Iceye’s modern and cost effective technology, we will be able to offer this service at a cost many orders of magnitude lower than that alternatives currently available.


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