Research on real-time spaceborne synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging has emerged as satellite computation capability has increased and applications of SAR imaging products have expanded. The orbit determination data of a spaceborne SAR platform are essential for the SAR imaging procedure. In real-time SAR imaging, onboard orbit determination data cannot achieve a level of accuracy that is equivalent to the orbit ephemeris in ground-based SAR processing, which requires a long processing time using common ground-based SAR imaging procedures. It is important to study the influence of errors in onboard real-time orbit determination data on SAR image quality. Instead of the widely used numerical simulation method, an analytical approximation model of the quadratic phase error (QPE) introduced by orbit determination errors is proposed. The proposed model can provide approximation results at two granularities: approximations with a satellite’s true anomaly as the independent variable and approximations for all positions in the satellite’s entire orbit. The proposed analytical approximation model reduces simulation complexity, extent of calculations, and the processing time. In addition, the model reveals the core of the process by which errors are transferred to QPE calculations. A detailed comparison between the proposed method and a numerical simulation method proves the correctness and reliability of the analytical approximation model. With the help of this analytical approximation model, the technical parameter iteration procedure during the early-stage development of an onboard real-time SAR imaging mission will likely be accelerated.
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