SHAllow RADar

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Payload SHARAD (2002)
Mars Echoes Generation System (2002/2005)
SHARAD MEGS (2004/2005)

CO.RI.S.T.A. has participated in the research activities on a new radar, named SHARAD. The Italian Space Agency has studied and proposed it for "Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter"  NASA mission.
This innovative scientific orbiter arrived in Mars orbit in March 2006 to carry out a mission that was completed, for the first part, in December 2010, but was extended until October 2014.

CO.RI.S.T.A. took part in the definition and implementation of the project requirements of the ground test instrumentation, the Electrical Ground Support Equipment (EGSE), and, in particular, in the implementation and validation of the Mars Echoes Generation System (MEGS), which allows to simulate the radar echoes received by Mars surface. Moreover, it collaborated with Thales Alenia Space Italia for the determination of the radar system definitions and performances, and to the data processing.

Mars exploration will mark the world space scene in the next decades.
Sharad is a research project for the realisation of a new radar sounder sensor for water detection under the crust of Mars. The attention and the interest for this planet and for the opportunities that it can offer have led both NASA and the European Space Agency to plan a series of observation missions, also in view of a future phase of human exploration
The assumption of the presence of water in its subsoil and in its atmosphere is more than probable and gives credit to the thesis of the possibility of some form of life on Mars, which is probably the most similar planet to the earth in our solar system.
In this field has been conceived Mars Express mission, an European Space Agency project, in which also Thales Alenia Space Italia participates. Mars Express aim is to detect the presence of water below Mars surface, in the form of underground pools, ponds, rivers, aquifers, or hidden in underground rock formations.
The satellite reached Mars at Christmas 2003. Until December 31, 2012 it carried out observation activities on the red planet surface by means of a series of instruments, among which there is MARSIS radar
MARSIS is the first radar sounder planned for space exploration missions, thirty years after the first and only experiment of Apollo 17 Lunar Sounder. It is a penetrating radar able to locate and analyze Mars crust, up to 5 km depth, detecting the presence of water and ice under its surface and providing data on its upper layers structure.
MARSIS is able to send low-frequency radio waves (1.3-5.5 MHZ) towards the red planet by a 40 meters long antenna, that has been displayed after the satellite arrival into Mars orbit.

On the basis of the experience acquired with MARSIS, the Italian Space Agency proposed SHARAD, an improved version of the sensor, for "Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter" NASA mission and committed the design and realization to Thales Alenia Space Italia. SHARAD has been conceived with much more advanced characteristics and performances.
The mission programme includes the study of planet minerals in order to detect traces of past existence of water and the monitoring of Martian climatic conditions to check the existence of water vapour in its atmosphere, during seasons alternation. The space vehicle will remain in Mars orbit without landing on the planet.
Among other instruments, an extra-high resolution camera and SHARAD radar will be onboard.
Actually SHARAD meets particular requirements which allow to fulfill the tasks of NASA strategy for this project ("Follow the water").


  • has the potential to detect volatiles in the subsurface to depths of ~1 km with an extra-high resolution,
  • will provide with its regional surveys (with global access) targets for future surface-based electromagnetic water/ice sounding experiments,
  • will map layering in polar regions, providing information about the Martian water cycle,
  • will map the stratigraphy of sedimentary layers, providing clues to the role of aqueous processes since their origins.

CO.RI.S.T.A. papers on the project:

  • Alberti G., Salzillo G.," Raw signal simulator for SHARAD", 23rd EARSeL Symposium "Remote Sensing in Transition", 2-5 June 2003, Gent (Belgium)       

  • G. Alberti, G. Galiero, G. Palmese, M. Sacchettino, G. Salzillo, CO.RI.S.T.A.; D. Calabrese, F. Fois, M. Ottavianelli, ALENIA SPAZIO; "Mars Echoes Generation for SHARAD", International Mars Conference, Ischia, Italy, September 19-23, 2004.      
  • M.Guelfi, D.Calabrese, ALENIA SPAZIO; S.Mattei, CO.RI.S.T.A.; "SHARAD Ground Data System (GDS)" International Mars Conference, Ischia, Italy, September 19-23, 2004.       
  • G. Alberti, G. Galiero*, A.Moccia, G. Palmese, M. Sacchettino, G. Salzillo CO.RI.S.T.A. "Echoes Generation Systems: SHARAD Experience", SPIE Remote Sensing Europe 2005, September 19-22, 2005, Bruges, Belgium.      
  • G. Alberti, M. Bortone, C. Caramiello, S. Dinardo, S. Mattei, C. Papa, G. Pica, G. Salzillo, M. R. Santovito, (CO.RI.S.T.A.), D. Biccari, A. Masdea, G. Picardi, R. Seu, (Alcatel Alenia Space Italia), C. Catallo, A. Croce, M. Guelfi, (University of Rome "La Sapienza"), E. Flamini, (Italian Space Agency), R. Orosei, (National Astrophysics Institute),"The Ground System of the SHAllow RADar(SHARAD) Experiment", VII National Congress of Planetary Sciences, 5-9 September 2006, San Felice al Circeo (LT), Italy.       

Degree thesis developed at CO.RI.S.T.A. on this subject:

  • "Analysis of SHARAD radar performances", Marcello Gatti, academic year 2002-2003, University of Naples "Federico II", Faculty of Engineering, Aerospace Department.

  • "Planning Algorithms of SHARAD Radar Sounding for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission", Mirko Izzo, academic year 2003-2004, Second University of Naples, Faculty of Engineering, Aerospace Department.      

For further information please contact:

Stefania Mattei
phone: +39-081-5935101

View of Mars

This picture of sand dunes in Wirtz Crater was obtained by the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC)

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Reconstruction of Mars Express satellite by ESA