The area accessible from a spaceborne imaging radar, e.g. a synthetic aperture radar (SAR), generally increases with the elevation of the satellite while the map coverage rate is a more complicated function of platform velocity and beam agility. The coverage of a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite is basically given by the ground velocity times the relatively narrow swath width. The instantaneously accessible area will be limited to some hundreds of kilometers away from the sub-satellite point. In the other extreme, the sub-satellite point of a SAR in geosynchronous orbit will move relatively slowly, while the area which can be accessed at any given time is very large, reaching thousands of kilometers from the sub-satellite point. To effectively use the accessibility provided by a high vantage point, very large antennas with electronically steered beams are required. Interestingly, medium Earth orbits (MEO) will enable powerful observational systems which provide large instantaneous reach and high mapping rates, while pushing technology less than alternative systems at higher altitudes. Using interferometric SAR techniques which can reveal centimeter-level (potentially sub-centimeter) surface displacements, frequent and targeted observations might be key to developing such elusive applications as earthquake forecasting. This paper discusses the basic characteristics of a SAR observational system as a function of the platform altitude and the technologies being developed to make such systems feasible.© (2005) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.