Radar satellite in traffic monitoring trials

The German Aerospace Centre DLR) is testing the feasibility of obtaining traffic information via satellite. The German radar satellite TerraSAR-X is going to monitor selected sections of motorway in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and California.

The aim of this project is to develop a procedure for capturing large-scale traffic data, independent of ground systems, and relaying it to various traffic information providers. Information gleaned by satellite can yield up-to-the-minute information, even from roads without sensors or cameras, whatever the weather, regardless of borders.

The technology is not limited to identifying areas of high traffic density. It can also be used to calculate the average speed of motorway traffic, so that the exact journey time between junctions can be established. With the help of such information, traffic information service providers will be able to make better journey time forecasts ̵1; even in fog, heavy rain and darkness ̵1; thanks to the latest radar technology.

In field trials over the next few months, the first stretches of motorway to be observed will be the A4 to the west of Dresden, and the area where Germany, Austria and Switzerland meet. Later, this will be extended to other roads in Germany and Interstate 5 in California, to the north-west of Los Angeles.

Traffic data capture represents an expansion of the capabilities of the TerraSAR-X, which circles the Earth in a polar orbit recording high-quality X-band radar data of the whole planet. It produces images regardless of weather conditions, cloud cover and daylight and is able to provide radar data with a resolution of up to one metre.

Other potential applications include surveying, and the preparation of the data for the emergency services.

Image: Monitoring a tailback near Dresden [DLR]

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