Calibration of a 35 GHz airborne cloud radar: lessons learned and intercomparisons with 94 GHz cloud radars
This study gives a summary of lessons learned during the absolute calibration of the airborne, high-power Ka-band cloud radar HAMP MIRA on board the German research aircraft HALO. The first part covers the internal calibration of the instrument where individual instrument components are characterized in the laboratory. In the second part, the internal calibration is validated with external reference sources like the ocean surface backscatter and different air- and spaceborne cloud radar instruments. A key component of this work was the characterization of the spectral response and the transfer function of the receiver. In a wide dynamic range of 70 dB, the receiver response turned out to be very linear (residual 0.05 dB). Using different attenuator settings, it covers a wide input range from −105 to −5 dBm. This characterization gave valuable new insights into the receiver sensitivity and additional attenuations which led to a major improvement of the absolute calibration. The comparison of the measured and the previously estimated total receiver noise power (−95.3 vs. −98.2 dBm) revealed an underestimation of 2.9 dB. This underestimation could be traced back to a larger receiver noise bandwidth of 7.5 MHz (instead of 5 MHz) and a slightly higher noise figure (1.1 dB). Measurements confirmed the previously assumed antenna gain (50.0 dBi) with no obvious asymmetries or increased side lobes. The calibration used for previous campaigns, however, did not account for a 1.5 dB two-way attenuation by additional waveguides in the airplane installation. Laboratory measurements also revealed a 2 dB higher two-way attenuation by the belly pod caused by small deviations during manufacturing. In total, effective reflectivities measured during previous campaigns had to be corrected by +7.6 dB. To validate this internal calibration, the well-defined ocean surface backscatter was used as a calibration reference. With the new absolute calibration, the ocean surface backscatter measured by HAMP MIRA agrees very well (<1 dB) with modeled values and values measured by the GPM satellite. As a further cross-check, flight experiments over Europe and the tropical North Atlantic were conducted. To that end, a joint flight of HALO and the French Falcon 20 aircraft, which was equipped with the RASTA cloud radar at 94 GHz and an underflight of the spaceborne CloudSat at 94 GHz were performed. The intercomparison revealed lower reflectivities (−1.4 dB) for RASTA but slightly higher reflectivities (+1.0 dB) for CloudSat. With effective reflectivities between RASTA and CloudSat and the good agreement with GPM, the accuracy of the absolute calibration is estimated to be around 1 dB.