Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Tomography is a technique to provide direct three-dimensional (3D) imaging of the illuminated targets by processing SAR data acquired from different trajectories. In a large part of the literature, 3D imaging is achieved by assuming mono-dimensional (1D) approaches derived from SAR Interferometry, where a vector of pixels from multiple SAR images is transformed into a new vector of pixels representing the vertical profile of scene reflectivity at a given range, azimuth location. However, mono-dimensional approaches are only suited for data acquired from very closely-spaced trajectories, resulting in coarse vertical resolution. In the case of continuous media, such as forests, snow, ice sheets and glaciers, achieving fine vertical resolution is only possible in the presence of largely-spaced trajectories, which involves significant complications concerning the formation of 3D images. The situation gets even more complicated in the presence of irregular trajectories with variable headings, for which the one theoretically exact approach consists of going back to raw SAR data to resolve the targets by 3D back-projection, resulting in a computational burden beyond the capabilities of standard computers. The first aim of this paper is to provide an exhaustive discussion of the conditions under which high-quality tomographic processing can be carried out by assuming a 1D, 2D, or 3D approach to image formation. The case of 3D processing is then further analyzed, and a new processing method is proposed to produce high-quality imaging while largely reducing the computational burden, and without having to process the original raw data. Furthermore, the new method is shown to be easily parallelized and implemented using GPU processing. The analysis is supported by results from numerical simulations as well as from real airborne data from the ESA campaign AlpTomoSAR.
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