The Maylaysian jetliner that went missing has yet to be found. There are many remote sensing satellites, equipped with radars, currently in service. Together, they provide good coverage of the entire Earth. Why is it their data could not be used effectively in tracking down the path of an airplane? If the airplane lands on the ocean, shouldn't we be able to tell from satellite data?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the question is about remote sensing techniques not directly related to Earth Sciences. $\endgroup$ – user889 Mar 19 '15 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ The airplane doesn't "land on the ocean". It's likely not even in one piece anymore, and under several kilometres of water, on the ocean floor. Satellites can't find that. $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Mar 19 '15 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Michael I think what the OP means is that the radar (assuming the satellite is over the area and acquiring data) could accidentally capture a "flying" aircraft. E.g., ships are often visible in SAR images, e.g., see Figure 12.2c in sarusersmanual.com/ManualPDF/NOAASARManual_CH12_pg277-304.pdf $\endgroup$ – stali Mar 19 '15 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ You mean the kind of stuff they have at the TV shows like CSI and other films where they can see anything on Earth all the time at cm resolution? :) $\endgroup$ – Gimelist Mar 19 '15 at 20:33
  • $\begingroup$ Question is a stretch of what Earth Sciences is all about. $\endgroup$ – gansub Mar 20 '15 at 1:46

Civilian earth observing SAR satellites do not always operate over empty swaths of oceans (specially in the middle of Indian Ocean) in order to save power. They are not designed to track a fast moving target and have repeat cycle of at least a few days. Then there is the issue of resolution. High res acquisitions modes (with satellites like TerraSAR-X) are pre-programmed in advance.

So in theory it is possible that a flying aircraft might show up in the amplitude image (a pixel or two wide) if a satellite was indeed flying over the Indian ocean and acquiring data over the area where the plane was flying. But then all you have is a single image. And once the plane is under water you wont see anything.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not a remote sensing expert but I know that ship-borne radar is subject to a lot of noise in rough weather due to reflections from the waves that can obscure smaller craft. So I'm not sure the satellites would be useful. $\endgroup$ – haresfur Mar 20 '15 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ Slow moving ships and their wakes do show up on processed SAR images. E.g., see the link I posted in the comment above. Planes would be extremely hard due to the mode of radar operation (pulse) but with sophisticated processing you might see something. $\endgroup$ – stali Mar 20 '15 at 1:35

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