A low-mass and low-volume dual-polarization L-band radiometer is introduced that has applications for ground-based remote sensing or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based mapping. With prominent use aboard the ESA Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) and NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellites, L-band radiometry can be used to retrieve environmental parameters, including soil moisture, sea surface salinity, snow liquid water content, snow density, vegetation optical depth, etc. The design and testing of the air-gapped patch array antenna is introduced and is shown to provide a 3-dB full power beamwidth of 37°. We present the radio-frequency (RF) front end design, which uses direct detection architecture and a square-law power detector. Calibration is performed using two internal references, including a matched resistive source (RS) at ambient temperature and an active cold source (ACS). The radio-frequency (RF) front end does not require temperature stabilization, due to characterization of the ACS noise temperature by sky measurements. The ACS characterization procedure is presented. The noise equivalent delta (Δ) temperature (NEΔT) of the radiometer is ~0.14 K at 1 s integration time. The total antenna temperature uncertainty ranges from 0.6 to 1.5 K.
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