Physics of Space and Airborne Sensor Systems

Course #PH3052

Est.imated Completion Time: 3 months


This inter-disciplinary course explores the physical principles underlying the sensor systems needed for satellites and tactical aircraft, as well as limitations imposed by the atmosphere and operating environment on these systems and their communication links. Topics include: satellite orbits, the satellite environment, ionospheric interactions and atmospheric propagation, phased array and pulsed compressed radars, imaging synthetic aperture and inverse synthetic aperture radars, noise resources, thermal radiation, principles of semiconductor devices, optical and infrared imaging detector systems, and their resolution limitations and bandwidth requirements.

Included in degrees & certificates

  • 273


  • Basic physics class. Must be familiar with the concepts of energy and wave motion.

Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course will:

  • Describe and differentiate the various remote sensing modalities (panchromatic, multispectral/hyperspectral, thermal, SAR, and lidar) to include their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Understand the basic properties of electromagnetic radiation and its interaction with matter.
  • Estimate the black-body emission from a target based on its temperature, surface area, and emissivity.
  • Understand how a semiconductor bandgap detector functions and determine its wavelength sensitivity.
  • Determine the basic system design of an optical sensor system based on desired area coverage, spatial resolution, spectral resolution, and revisit rate. System parameters will include imaging strategy, aperture diameter, focal length, radiometric resolution, exposure time, data-rates/storage, downlink, and altitude/orbit.
  • Estimate the imaging and communication access windows for a satellite based on its altitude and minimum elevation angle.
  • Describe the elements of visual interpretation and the role of image processing tools such as filters, principal component analysis, and supervised and unsupervised classification for target identification and photo analysis.
  • Estimate the signal strength of a thermal target and derive kinetic temperature from radiant temperature measurements.
  • Estimate the range and azimuthal resolution of a SAR platform given its basic system attributes.
  • Describe how radar interferometry is used to monitor changes in a target scene and map surface elevation.
  • Estimate the range resolution, area coverage, point density, and signal strength of a lidar system.
Offerings database access
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Application Deadlines

  •  08 Jul 2024

    Fall Quarter applications due

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