Corner reflector

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A corner reflector is a retroreflector consisting of three mutually perpendicular, intersecting flat surfaces, which reflects waves back directly towards the source, but translated. The three intersecting surfaces often have square shapes. Radar corner reflectors made of metal are used to reflect radio waves from radar sets. Optical corner reflectors, called corner cubes, made of three-sided glass prisms, are used in surveying and laser ranging.

Retroreflector Device to reflect radiation back to its source

A retroreflector is a device or surface that reflects radiation back to its source with a minimum of scattering. In a retroreflector the wavefront of the radiation is reflected straight back to the wave's source. This works at a wide range of angle of incidence, unlike a planar mirror, which does this only if the mirror is exactly perpendicular to the wave front, having a zero angle of incidence. Being directed, the retroflector's reflection is brighter than that of a diffuse reflector. Corner reflectors and cat eye reflectors are the most used kinds.

Perpendicular Relationship between two lines that meet at a right angle (90 degrees)

In elementary geometry, the property of being perpendicular (perpendicularity) is the relationship between two lines which meet at a right angle. The property extends to other related geometric objects.

Intersection (Euclidean geometry) point, line, or curve common to two or more objects such as lines, curves, planes, and surfaces

In geometry, an intersection is a point, line, or curve common to two or more objects. The simplest case in Euclidean geometry is the intersection of two distinct lines, which either is one point or does not exist if the lines are parallel.



Working principle of a corner reflector Corner reflector.svg
Working principle of a corner reflector

The incoming ray is reflected three times, once by each surface, which results in a reversal of direction. [1] [2] To see this, the three corresponding normal vectors of the corner's perpendicular sides can be considered to form a basis (a rectangular coordinate system) (x, y, z) in which to represent the direction of an arbitrary incoming ray, [a, b, c]. When the ray reflects from the first side, say x, the ray's x component, a, is reversed to −a while the y and z components are unchanged, resulting in a direction of [−a, b, c]. Similarly, when reflected from side y and finally from side z, the b and c components are reversed. Therefore, the ray direction goes from [a, b, c] to [−a, b, c] to [−a, −b, c] to [−a, −b, −c], and it leaves the corner reflector with all three components of direction exactly reversed. The distance travelled, relative to a plane normal to the direction of the rays, is also equal for any ray entering the reflector, regardless of the location where it first reflects.[ citation needed ]

Basis (linear algebra) subset of a vector space, such that every vector is uniquely expressible as a linear combination over this set of vectors

In mathematics, a set B of elements (vectors) in a vector space V is called a basis, if every element of V may be written in a unique way as a (finite) linear combination of elements of B. The coefficients of this linear combination are referred to as components or coordinates on B of the vector. The elements of a basis are called basis vectors.

Animation showing the reflected rays in a corner of a cube (corner reflector principle). Reflection-coin-cube-rot.gif
Animation showing the reflected rays in a corner of a cube (corner reflector principle).

In radar

Radarreflektor auf einer Motoryacht 3596.JPG
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(far left) A radar corner reflector (diamond-shaped object) on the mast of a yacht. Note that this one is improperly deployed; to best reflect surface radar it should be deployed in the so-called "rain-catching" configuration so as to present an inside corner as shown on the "radar testing" image.
(near left) Buoy in San Diego Harbor. Metal plates near the top form corner reflectors to reflect radar signals.
(near right) Corner reflector for radar testing
(far right) Multireflector at the Nevada Test Site used as radar target for simulated nuclear bombing

Radar corner reflectors are designed to reflect the microwave radio waves emitted by radar sets back toward the radar antenna. This causes them to show a strong "return" on radar screens. A simple corner reflector consists of three conducting sheet metal or screen surfaces at 90° angles to each other, attached to one another at the edges, forming a "corner". These reflect radio waves coming from in front of them back parallel to the incoming beam. To create a corner reflector that will reflect radar waves coming from any direction, 8 corner reflectors are placed back-to-back in an octahedron (diamond) shape. The reflecting surfaces must be larger than several wavelengths of the radio waves to function. [3]

Microwave form of electromagnetic radiation

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.

Radar object detection system based on radio waves

Radar is a detection system that uses radio waves to determine the range, angle, or velocity of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. A radar system consists of a transmitter producing electromagnetic waves in the radio or microwaves domain, a transmitting antenna, a receiving antenna and a receiver and processor to determine properties of the object(s). Radio waves from the transmitter reflect off the object and return to the receiver, giving information about the object's location and speed.

Octahedron Polyhedron with 8 faces

In geometry, an octahedron is a polyhedron with eight faces, twelve edges, and six vertices. The term is most commonly used to refer to the regular octahedron, a Platonic solid composed of eight equilateral triangles, four of which meet at each vertex.

In maritime navigation they are placed on bridge abutments, buoys, ships and, especially, lifeboats, to ensure that these show up strongly on ship radar screens. Corner reflectors are placed on the vessel's masts at a height of at least 4.6 meters (15 feet) above sea level (giving them an approximate minimum horizon distance of 8 kilometers or 4.5 nautical miles). Marine radar uses X-band microwaves with wavelengths of 2.5 - 3.75 cm, so small reflectors less than 30 cm across are used. In aircraft navigation, corner reflectors are installed on rural runways, to make them show up on aircraft radar.

Bridge structure built to span physical obstacles

A bridge is a structure built to span a physical obstacle, such as a body of water, valley, or road, without closing the way underneath. It is constructed for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle, usually something that can be detrimental to cross otherwise. There are many different designs that each serve a particular purpose and apply to different situations. Designs of bridges vary depending on the function of the bridge, the nature of the terrain where the bridge is constructed and anchored, the material used to make it, and the funds available to build it.

Buoy Floating structure or device

A buoy is a floating device that can have many purposes. It can be anchored (stationary) or allowed to drift with ocean currents. The etymology of the word is disputed.

Ship Large buoyant watercraft

A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans and other sufficiently deep waterways, carrying passengers or goods, or in support of specialized missions, such as defense, research and fishing. Historically, a "ship" was a sailing vessel with at least three square-rigged masts and a full bowsprit. Ships are generally distinguished from boats, based on size, shape, load capacity, and tradition.

In optics

Corner cube reflector Corner Cube Reflector CCR.jpg
Corner cube reflector
Apollo 15 Lunar Laser Ranging RetroReflector (LRRR) installed on the Moon ALSEP AS15-85-11468.jpg
Apollo 15 Lunar Laser Ranging RetroReflector (LRRR) installed on the Moon

In optics, corner reflectors typically consist of three mirrors or reflective prism faces which return an incident light beam in the opposite direction. In surveying, retroreflector prisms are commonly used as targets for long-range electronic distance measurement using a total station.

Optics The branch of physics that studies light

Optics is the branch of physics that studies the behaviour and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behaviour of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light. Because light is an electromagnetic wave, other forms of electromagnetic radiation such as X-rays, microwaves, and radio waves exhibit similar properties.

Mirror object that reflects light or sound

A mirror is an object that reflects light in such a way that, for incident light in some range of wavelengths, the reflected light preserves many or most of the detailed physical characteristics of the original light, called specular reflection. This is different from other light-reflecting objects that do not preserve much of the original wave signal other than color and diffuse reflected light, such as flat-white paint.

Light beam Projection of light energy

A light beam or beam of light is a directional projection of light energy radiating from a light source. Sunlight forms a light beam when filtered through media such as clouds, foliage, or windows. To artificially produce a light beam, a lamp and a parabolic reflector is used in many lighting devices such as spotlights, car headlights, PAR Cans and LED housings. Light from certain types of laser has the smallest possible beam divergence.

Five arrays of optical corner reflectors have been placed on the Moon for use by Lunar Laser Ranging experiments observing a laser's time-of-flight to measure the Moon's orbit more precisely than was possible before. The three largest were placed by NASA as part of the Apollo program, and the Soviet Union's built two smaller ones into the Lunokhod rovers.

Moon Earths natural satellite

Earth's Moon is an astronomical body that orbits the planet and acts as its only permanent natural satellite. It is the fifth-largest satellite in the Solar System, and the largest among planetary satellites relative to the size of the planet that it orbits. The Moon is, after Jupiter's satellite Io, the second-densest satellite in the Solar System among those whose densities are known.

Lunar Laser Ranging experiment The Apollo landing mirror, measuring the distance between the Earth and the Moon

The ongoing Lunar Laser Ranging experiment or Apollo landing mirror measures the distance between surfaces of Earth and the Moon using laser ranging. Lasers at observatories on Earth are aimed at retroreflectors planted on the Moon during the Apollo program, and the two Lunokhod missions. Laser light pulses are transmitted and reflected back to Earth, and the round-trip duration is measured. The lunar distance is calculated from this value.

Laser Device which emits light via optical amplification

A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of electromagnetic radiation. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation". The first laser was built in 1960 by Theodore H. Maiman at Hughes Research Laboratories, based on theoretical work by Charles Hard Townes and Arthur Leonard Schawlow.

Automobile and bicycle tail lights are molded with arrays of small corner reflectors, with different sections oriented for viewing from different angles. Reflective paint for visibility at night usually contains retroreflective spherical beads. Thin plastic with microscopic corner reflector structures can be used as tape, on signs, or sewn or molded onto clothing.

Other examples

Corner reflectors can also occur accidentally. Tower blocks with balconies are often accidental corner reflectors for sound and return a distinctive echo to an observer making a sharp noise, such as a hand clap, nearby. Similarly, in radar interpretation, an object that has multiple reflections from smooth surfaces produces a radar return of greater magnitude than might be expected from the physical size of the object. This effect was put to use on the ADM-20 Quail, a small missile which had the same radar cross section as a B-52.

See also

Related Research Articles

Reflective array antenna

In telecommunications and radar, a reflective array antenna is a class of directive antennas in which multiple driven elements are mounted in front of a flat surface designed to reflect the radio waves in a desired direction. They are a type of array antenna. They are often used in the VHF and UHF frequency bands. VHF examples are generally large and resemble a highway billboard, so they are sometimes called billboard antennas, or in Britain hoarding antennas. Other names are bedspring array and bowtie array depending on the type of elements making up the antenna. The curtain array is a larger version used by shortwave radio broadcasting stations.

Antenna (radio) electrical device which converts electric power into radio waves, and vice versa

In radio engineering, an antenna is the interface between radio waves propagating through space and electric currents moving in metal conductors, used with a transmitter or receiver. In transmission, a radio transmitter supplies an electric current to the antenna's terminals, and the antenna radiates the energy from the current as electromagnetic waves. In reception, an antenna intercepts some of the power of a radio wave in order to produce an electric current at its terminals, that is applied to a receiver to be amplified. Antennas are essential components of all radio equipment.

Parabolic antenna type of antenna

A parabolic antenna is an antenna that uses a parabolic reflector, a curved surface with the cross-sectional shape of a parabola, to direct the radio waves. The most common form is shaped like a dish and is popularly called a dish antenna or parabolic dish. The main advantage of a parabolic antenna is that it has high directivity. It functions similarly to a searchlight or flashlight reflector to direct the radio waves in a narrow beam, or receive radio waves from one particular direction only. Parabolic antennas have some of the highest gains, meaning that they can produce the narrowest beamwidths, of any antenna type. In order to achieve narrow beamwidths, the parabolic reflector must be much larger than the wavelength of the radio waves used, so parabolic antennas are used in the high frequency part of the radio spectrum, at UHF and microwave (SHF) frequencies, at which the wavelengths are small enough that conveniently-sized reflectors can be used.

Reflection (physics) Change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two different media so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated

Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two different media so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated. Common examples include the reflection of light, sound and water waves. The law of reflection says that for specular reflection the angle at which the wave is incident on the surface equals the angle at which it is reflected. Mirrors exhibit specular reflection.

Radar cross-section measure of how detectable an object is by radar

Radar cross-section (RCS) is a measure of how detectable an object is by radar. A larger RCS indicates that an object is more easily detected.

Imaging radar application of radar which is used to create two-dimensional images

Imaging radar is an application of radar which is used to create two-dimensional images, typically of landscapes. Imaging radar provides its light to illuminate an area on the ground and take a picture at radio wavelengths. It uses an antenna and digital computer storage to record its images. In a radar image, one can see only the energy that was reflected back towards the radar antenna. The radar moves along a flight path and the area illuminated by the radar, or footprint, is moved along the surface in a swath, building the image as it does so.

Horn antenna

A horn antenna or microwave horn is an antenna that consists of a flaring metal waveguide shaped like a horn to direct radio waves in a beam. Horns are widely used as antennas at UHF and microwave frequencies, above 300 MHz. They are used as feed antennas for larger antenna structures such as parabolic antennas, as standard calibration antennas to measure the gain of other antennas, and as directive antennas for such devices as radar guns, automatic door openers, and microwave radiometers. Their advantages are moderate directivity, low standing wave ratio (SWR), broad bandwidth, and simple construction and adjustment.

Luneburg lens

A Luneburg lens is a spherically symmetric gradient-index lens. A typical Luneburg lens's refractive index n decreases radially from the center to the outer surface. They can be made for use with electromagnetic radiation from visible light to radio waves.

Continuous-wave radar

Continuous-wave radar is a type of radar system where a known stable frequency continuous wave radio energy is transmitted and then received from any reflecting objects. Continuous-wave (CW) radar uses Doppler, which renders the radar immune to interference from large stationary objects and slow moving clutter.

Plasma stealth is a proposed process to use ionized gas (plasma) to reduce the radar cross-section (RCS) of an aircraft. Interactions between electromagnetic radiation and ionized gas have been extensively studied for many purposes, including concealing aircraft from radar as stealth technology. Various methods might plausibly be able to form a layer or cloud of plasma around a vehicle to deflect or absorb radar, from simpler electrostatic or radio frequency discharges to more complex laser discharges. It is theoretically possible to reduce RCS in this way, but it may be very difficult to do so in practice. Some Russian systems e.g. the 3M22 Zircon (SS-N-33) missile have been reported to make use of plasma stealth.

Reflector (antenna) part of radio antenna

An antenna reflector is a device that reflects electromagnetic waves. Antenna reflectors can exist as a standalone device for redirecting radio frequency (RF) energy, or can be integrated as part of an antenna assembly.

Safety reflector a reflector that can be found on safety vests and clothing worn by road workers and rescue workers

A reflector is a retroreflector intended for pedestrians, runners, motorized and non-motorized vehicles. A safety reflector is similar to reflective stripes that can be found on safety vests and clothing worn by road workers and rescue workers. They are sometimes erroneously called luminous badges or luminous tags, but this is incorrect as they do not themselves produce light, but only reflect it.

Corner reflector antenna

A corner reflector antenna is a type of directional antenna used at VHF and UHF frequencies. It was invented by John D. Kraus in 1938. It consists of a dipole driven element mounted in front of two flat rectangular reflecting screens joined at an angle, usually 90°. Corner reflectors have moderate gain of 10-15 dB, high front-to-back ratio of 20-30 dB, and wide bandwidth.

Output coupler

An output coupler (OC) is the component of an optical resonator that allows the extraction of a portion of the light from the laser's intracavity beam. An output coupler most often consists of a partially reflective mirror, allowing a certain portion of the intracavity beam to transmit through. Other methods include the use of almost-totally reflective mirrors at each end of the cavity, emitting the beam either by focusing it into a small hole drilled in the center of one mirror, or by redirecting through the use of rotating mirrors, prisms, or other optical devices, causing the beam to bypass one of the end mirrors at a given time.

Coastal ocean dynamics applications radar

Coastal ocean dynamics applications radar (CODAR) describes a type of portable, land-based, High Frequency (HF) radar developed between 1973 and 1983 at NOAA's Wave Propagation Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. CODAR is a noninvasive system that permits to measure and map near-surface ocean currents in coastal waters. It is transportable and offers output ocean current maps on site in near real time. Moreover, using CODAR it is possible to measure waves heights and it provides an indirect estimate of local wind direction.

Antenna array set of multiple antennas which work together as a single antenna

An antenna array is a set of multiple connected antennas which work together as a single antenna, to transmit or receive radio waves. The individual antennas are usually connected to a single receiver or transmitter by feedlines that feed the power to the elements in a specific phase relationship. The radio waves radiated by each individual antenna combine and superpose, adding together to enhance the power radiated in desired directions, and cancelling to reduce the power radiated in other directions. Similarly, when used for receiving, the separate radio frequency currents from the individual antennas combine in the receiver with the correct phase relationship to enhance signals received from the desired directions and cancel signals from undesired directions. More sophisticated array antennas may have multiple transmitter or receiver modules, each connected to a separate antenna element or group of elements.


  1. Newman, William I. (2012). Continuum Mechanics in the Earth Sciences. Cambridge University Press. pp. 6–7. ISBN   0521562899.
  2. Bernstein, Matt A.; Friedman, William A. (2011). Thinking About Equations: A Practical Guide for Developing Mathematical Intuition in the Physical Sciences and Engineering. Wiley. p. 193. ISBN   1118210646.
  3. Kraus, John; Marhefka, Ronald (2002). Antennas for All Applications (3rd ed.). McGraw Hill. p. 365. ISBN   0-07-112240-0.