ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects ASI - Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - Mission and Projects


Main Theme Developing and testing of sounding radar
Mission Responsibility ASI
Launch Date June 2009
End of Mission 2009
Current phase Phase D


The SoRa (Sounding Radar) experiment is part of a more wide-ranging payload testing programme for exploration and consists of a stratospheric balloon flight of subsurface penetrating radar with similar performance to those already supplied by ASI to Mars exploration missions: MARSIS for ESA's Mars Express and especially SHARAD for NASA's MRO. The mission which is already in the works will last about a week, at an altitude of 35 kilometres above sea level and at a latitude of around 80° North, therefore with a circumpolar flyover of a vast area of Greenland and the Canadian archipelago where the payload, once unloaded by the balloon, will be recovered. For this purpose a cubic gondola of 1.5 metres with impact-resistant edges that can ensure floating has been planned and developed. It will hold all the systems for feeding, software management, in addition to the main payload which is made up of the synthetic aperture radar with a central frequency of 163 MHz and with an impulse of 3 s length.  The outside instead is fixed to a Yagi-type emitting antenna with a gain of about 13 dB. Management of the flight equipment, balloon, and relative gas of the parachute systems and preparatory operations to the flight will see the complete involvement of the staff and infrastructures of ASI's Trapani base.


Scientific Objectives
The main objective of the experiment is to calibrate the hardware and software instruments, to test the inversion algorithms in the penetration radar for planetary exploration, to acquire data during the flyover of the known structure ice surfaces which will be used as a reference for the process of improving and further developing the radar, in conditions very close to operational. At the same time it will be possible to deepen knowledge from the geo-morphological point of view of polar areas covered with ice, permafrost, of plutonic and sedimentary rocks present in the subsurface up to several kilometres in depth and with a resolution up to 15 metres.
The wide range of investigations that can be executed from the inspection technology of the subsurface through radar opens the path to many further applications on stratospheric balloon flights such as those under study phase on desert areas in the equator zone or in the Antarctic.


Italian Contribution
The experiment has been completely funded by ASI and exclusively involves Italian research institutions and Italian companies: CORISTA of Naples and TAS-I Rome for the development of radar, CISAS of Padua for the gondola and auxiliary systems, the INFOCOM department of Rome's "La


International Agreements
The profile of the first mission foresees the launch from high latitudes, with the alternative between the base of Andoya Rocket Range site in Norway or the Longyearbean of the Svalbard Islands.  In both cases agreements are being drawn up for the supply of support in launch activities. The recovery phase in Canadian waters or territory also envisages the support of local authorities. Interactions with SHARAD's international team are foreseen for the coordinated processing of the common interest data.