New Generation Radar Focuses on Plasma to Create Agile Mirror
- About NRL
- Doing Business
- Public Affairs & Media
- Public Affairs Office
- News Releases
- 2016 News Releases
- 2015 News Releases
- 2014 News Releases
- 2013 News Releases
- 2012 News Releases
- 2011 News Releases
- 2010 News Releases
- 2009 News Releases
- 2008 News Releases
- 2007 News Releases
- 2006 News Releases
- 2005 News Releases
- 2004 News Releases
- 2003 News Releases
- 2002 News Releases
- 2001 News Releases
- 2000 News Releases
- 1999 News Releases
- 1998 News Releases
- 1997 News Releases
- 1996 News Releases
- NRL Videos
- Email Updates
- Social Media
- NRL Events
- Popular Images
- Public Notices
- Field Sites
- Visitor Info
- Contact NRL
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541
When President Ronald Reagan announced the plan for the Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s, it was considered revolutionary.
Reagan's idea was to create a defensive system that would zap enemy ballistic missiles aimed at the U.S. before they got near us. Reagan's announcement implied the use of novel technologies, including sophisticated radars capable beyond anything in existence at the time.
Well, Naval Research Laboratory scientists are working to bring the equally revolutionary dynamics of plasma physics to the world of military radar -- and perhaps beyond.
Meet Agile Mirror, which is quite possibly a part of the radar of the future and is being developed at NRL's Plasma Physics Division in collaboration with the Radar Division.
Agile Mirror consists of a plasma sheet formed in a low-pressure chamber by a gas discharge, explained Dr. Robert Meger, Head of the Charged Particle Physics Branch, Plasma Physics Division at NRL and principal investigator. The present laboratory version measures 60 centimeters by 60 centimeters by one centimeter. The plasma acts just like a conducting metal sheet to the microwaves. It is possible to turn the plasma mirror on and off very rapidly (less than 10 microseconds) and change the orientation of the mirror in between pulses. Multiple high power microwave sources with the same or different frequencies could be combined on a single Agile Mirror, in sequence or simultaneously.
"Its beauty is that it can enable a radar system to follow many independent targets while continuing to search for others," Dr. Meger said.
Agile Mirror, currently in an experimental configuration, is a thing of visual beauty and awesome potential.
Its broad-band capability will enable variable or multifrequency radars as well as use for electronic warfare, telemetry and communications. Moreover, it and related technologies are potentially applicable to a variety of other than military purposes, including weather detection (searching for microbursts, for example), air-traffic control, telecommunications, discharge lighting, and even pollution control.
But the people developing the plasma mirror have a more immediate use in mind -- aboard U.S. Navy ships and aircraft tracking multiple, high-velocity targets, said Dr. Meger.
The plasma mirror, called Agile Mirror because of its ability to change direction rapidly and repeatedly, is a multipurpose, microwave beam director. It represents advantages over existing radar technology including size, weight and cost, but especially electronic steering, wide bandwidth operation, and high power capability, he said.
"Because the plasma mirror is electronically steerable with no moving parts, it possesses the ability to more very fast from one point to another," Dr. Meger said.
Dr. Meger explained that radar redirection (crucial for finding targets) originally depended on moving antennas mechanically. This limited response time. A substantial improvement in response time was achieved with phased arrays, which are used on Aegis cruisers.
Phased array radar, which moves electronically by changing the relative phase of individual elements of the array, is costly and has frequency limitations. Frequencies are important because a target invisible in one frequency may be readily visible in another, Dr. Meger explained.
Agile Mirror differs significantly because it offers a means of electronically directing single-element, high-power, high-frequency microwave beams to a target.
About the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory provides the advanced scientific capabilities required to bolster our country's position of global naval leadership. The Laboratory, with a total complement of approximately 2,500 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to advance research further than you can imagine. For more information, visit the NRL website or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
Comment policy: We hope to receive submissions from all viewpoints, but we ask that all participants agree to the Department of Defense Social Media User Agreement. All comments are reviewed before being posted.