CASA to Commercialize Next Generation of Weather Radars

Achievement date: 
2013
Outcome/accomplishment: 

Researchers at the NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass), in collaboration with Raytheon Co. and First RF Corp. (located in Boulder, CO), have commercialized a new type of weather radar, a phased-array radar called the First RF FRF-166, that is a major step forward in CASA’s goal of developing a new kind of weather radar network offering better forecasting ability for many types of weather than the current Doppler radars can provide.

Impact/benefits: 

When compared to standard weather radars, the FRF-166 can be produced at a lower cost and with fewer components. The radars resemble flat-screen TVs and do not swivel, so they have no failure-prone moving parts requiring maintenance. These units can be mounted on the side of virtually any building and fill the gap between the large, sparsely spaced Doppler radars in place today, leading to much-improved weather forecasting. The technology is currently being tested in Western Massachusetts by CASA participants and in South Australia by a multinational team including CASA and its industrial partners. The developers plan to disseminate their findings through publications and through conferences in North America and Europe.

Explanation/Background: 

The introduction of the FRF-166 low-power electronically-steered array is a major milestone for the CASA project and the culmination of nearly a decade of research and development. These radars can be mounted lower and closer together with less supporting infrastructure than their conventional counterparts, resulting in faster and more precise and accurate predictions.

The new design eliminates over a dozen moving parts and the labor associated with maintaining them. CASA’s radar system is better described as a cluster, or array, of radar sensors. This enables the system to track rain and storm cells without the need for mechanical rotation. Moreover, this configuration allows for faster sweeps and improves the resolution of the weather data over the traditional large Doppler radars deployed by the National Weather Service. In addition, the array allows imaging of lower regions of the atmosphere where much severe weather, such as tornadoes, form.