It is found that the Shuttle Imaging Radar A (SIR-A) signal penetration and subsurface backscatter within the upper meter or so of the sediment blanket in the Eastern Sahara of southern Egypt and northern Sudan are enhanced both by radar sensor parameters and by the physical and chemical characteristics of eolian and alluvial materials. The near-surface stratigraphy, the electrical properties of materials, and the types of radar interfaces found to be responsible for different classes of SIR-A tonal response are summarized. The dominant factors related to efficient microwave signal penetration into the sediment blanket include 1) favorable distribution of particle sizes, 2) extremely low moisture content and 3) reduced geometric scattering at the SIR-A frequency (1. 3 GHz). The depth of signal penetration that results in a recorded backscatter, called radar imaging depth, was documented in the field to be a maximum of 1. 5 m, or 0. 25 times the calculated skin depth, for the sediment blanket. The radar imaging depth is estimated to be between 2 and 3 m for active sand dune materials.