Phase Offset Calculation for Airborne InSAR DEM Generation Without Corner Reflectors

Digital elevation model (DEM) generation through interferometric processing of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data requires the calculation of a constant phase offset present in the unwrapped interferograms. This operation is usually carried out by exploiting the external information provided by GPS measurements in correspondence of corner reflectors (CRs) properly deployed over the illuminated area. This is, however, expensive in terms of cost and time. Moreover, deployment of CRs along with the corresponding in situ GPS measurements can be difficult (if not impossible) in unfriendly areas or in natural disaster scenarios. To circumvent these limitations, we address in this work the estimation of the required phase offset by exploiting a low-accuracy external DEM, without using CRs. More specifically, a two-step approach is proposed. The first step exploits the synthetic phase computed by means of the external DEM and represents a straightforward extension of the procedure that is usually applied in the presence of CRs. Subsequently, in order to refine the achieved solution, a second step is introduced. It is based on a least squares approach that properly exploits the difference between the available low-accuracy DEM and the interferometric DEM generated by means of the phase offset value roughly estimated through the first step.

The presented approach is very easy to implement and allows us to achieve an accurate and fast estimate of the needed phase offset, even in the presence of an external DEM affected by a vertical bias and/or a planar shift. The algorithm performances improve in the presence of a large variation of the look angle, as it generally happens in airborne systems. On the other side, the effectiveness of the algorithm may be impaired by the possible presence of artifacts in the unwrapped interferograms, such as those due to the residual motion errors typical of repeat-pass airborne SAR scenarios. Accordingly, the proposed solution is particularly- suitable for single-pass interferometric airborne SAR systems, as demonstrated through the presented experimental results achieved on real data.