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ESA deploys first orbital debris test radar in Spain

16 October 2012

A new radar designed to test methods for finding orbital debris that can be hazardous to space navigation and warn of its presence, has been installed in Spain.

The test radar installed in Spain (photo courtesy of ESA)
The test radar installed in Spain (photo courtesy of ESA)

Following an 18-month design and development phase, the radar was installed near Santorcaz, about 30km from Madrid, and the first series of acceptance and validation tests are scheduled to begin in mid-November.

ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme office and Spain’s Indra Espacio signed a €4.7m contract to build the radar in 2010.

Early debris detection is crucial to help warn satellite operators of collision risks and enable avoidance manoeuvres to be made.  

Indra Espacio is the prime industrial partner and is responsible for the design and development of the radar transmitter. The development of the radar receiver was subcontracted to the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR), Wachtberg, Germany.

The radar deployed in Spain by ESA makes use of the ‘monostatic’ design, in which the transmitter and receiver are co-located within just a few hundred metres.

A second contract to develop a ‘bistatic’ design radar, in which the transmitter and receiver are separated by several hundreds of kilometres, was signed with a separate industrial grouping in September 2012.

In the future, the two test radars, bistatic and monostatic, will be joined by an initial set of optical telescopes for the surveillance of higher altitude orbits, and the entire system will be incrementally improved to develop precursor warning services for satellite operators.

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