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27.06.2011 Category: Ausgabe 43, Fraunhofer FHR, From the institutes, Safety and Security

European space patrol

Space debris threatens to damage or even destroy active satellites and spacecraft. A new European space surveillance system will in future protect such equipment from danger when in orbit. Researchers at the Fraunhofer FHR are developing the reception radar for the demonstrator.

 

Space debris population. Photo: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
Space debris population. Photo: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
Explodierte Raumfahrtobjekte Explodierte Raumfahrtobjekte können aktive Satelliten beschädigen und sogar völlig zerstören. Foto: Europäische Weltraumbehörde ESA
Explodierte Raumfahrtobjekte Explodierte Raumfahrtobjekte können aktive Satelliten beschädigen und sogar völlig zerstören. Foto: Europäische Weltraumbehörde ESA

Countless satellites and pieces of exploded equipment previously used for space flight orbit the earth. At present, there are about 20,000 objects at least 10 cm in length orbiting the earth, 15,000 of which are in near-earth orbit at an altitude of 200 to 2000 km. Due to their phenomenal speeds of up to 28,000 km/h, even objects a few centimeters in size can damage or completely destroy active satellites. The International Space Station (ISS), for example, has to perform evasive maneuvers four to five times a year to avoid damage.

New space positioning system

As part of its “Space Situational Awareness” (SSA) program, the European Space Agency (ESA) plans on laying the foundations of a new European space positioning system by the end of 2011. The system, whose location has not yet been decided upon, will be set up between 2012 and 2019.

Radar detects objects a few centimeters in size

The ESA has commissioned the Spanish company Indra Espacio to develop a radar demonstrator. The company is being supported in the construction of the demonstrator by the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR in Wachtberg. The Spanish company is developing the transmitter array and the Fraunhofer FHR scientists the receiver system. “The new surveillance system uses an electronically steerable, inertia-free antenna that can be positioned very quickly,” explains Dr. Andreas Brenner, head of department at Fraunhofer FHR. It can observe a large number of objects simultaneously, detecting their position to a high degree of accuracy and sensitivity. This is an essential requirement, given the objective of having from 15,000 to 20,000 objects on the radar for at least ten seconds each day. A phasedarray antenna as the sensor is capable of capturing radar signals reflected by satellites and space debris in up to eight directions at the same time. In its final version, the surveillance radar will be able to detect objects in geostationary orbit at an altitude of approximately 36,000 km above the surface of the Earth, but its power will be mainly concentrated on the low Earth orbit at an altitude of between 200 and 2,000 km, where it will be capable of detecting particles of debris measuring down to a few cm in diameter. The demonstrator is to be submitted to the ESA at the end of this year. There will then follow a year of testing. It is still undecided who will be awarded the contract to build the final system.

 

Contact:

 

Dr. Andreas Brenner

Phone +49 228 9435-531

andreas.brenner@fhr.fraunhofer.de

 

Jens Fiege

Phone +49 228 9435-323

jens.fiege@fhr.fraunhofer.de

 

Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency

Physics and Radar Techniques FHR

Neuenahrer Strasse 20

53343 Wachtberg

Germany

www.fhr.fraunhofer.de