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European industry develops space safety radar
13 September 2012
European Space Agency (ESA)
ESA and France’s ONERA – Office National d’Etudes et Recherches Aérospatiales – research centre have signed a €4 million contract that will see the French organisation and five industrial partners in France, Spain and Switzerland design a test surveillance radar and develop a demonstrator model. Work begins this month.
“The agreement significantly increases European industrial competitiveness and capabilities in this field,” says Nicolas Bobrinsky, Head of ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Preparatory Programme.
“The new demonstrator radar will help test and validate techniques for observing orbital debris. ESA will benefit from the strong cooperation between French, Spanish and Swiss industry.”
Early debris detection is crucial to help warn satellite operators of collision risks and enable avoidance manoeuvres to be made. Mp>The radar will make use of ‘bistatic’ technology, following an earlier, parallel contract between ESA and Spain's Indra Espacio SA to develop a test radar that uses the ‘monostatic’ approach.
Radars to conduct comparative testing
“Both radar designs will help test and validate techniques for observing orbital debris by conducting comparative testing,” says Gian Maria Pinna, Ground Segment Manager in ESA’s SSA office.
“The two radar demonstrators will be part of an initial complex network of sensors, which will also make use of optical telescopes and data processing centres for observation of debris objects in all orbital regions.
“While radar technology works most efficiently for the detection of objects in low and highly elliptical orbits, optical technology is better for objects in medium and geostationary orbits.”
Radars work by emitting radio energy at a target, and then detecting the reflected signal.
In a monostatic radar, the emitter and the receiver are at the same spot and the energy is emitted in discrete pulses.
In a bistatic radar, the emitter and receiver are set up at separate locations and the energy is emitted continuously.
For the new test radar, the emitter will be located at a former airport near Crucey-Villages, about 100 km west of Paris, while the receiver will be near Palaiseau, to the south of Paris.
Boosting European industrial competitiveness
The new contract highlights the strong support to European industry provided through ESA’s SSA activities, which began in 2009.
To date, over 25 contracts have been issued to industry for SSA-related work, with a total value in excess of €30 million.
“For the development of radar technology alone, the new contract brings the total number of contractors involved to eight, spread across four Member States,” says Nicolas.
“This represents a significant return on investment and highlights the abilities of European industry to play an active and autonomous role in developing essential SST assets to help secure safe use of space.”
About Space Situational Awareness
The Space Situational Awareness Preparatory Programme (SSA-PP) was authorised at the November 2008 ESA Ministerial Council and formally launched 1 January 2009. After an initial three-year period to 2011, full operational services will be implemented in 2012-19 upon approval.
The objective of the SSA programme is to support Europe's independent utilisation of, and access to, space through the provision of timely and accurate information, data and services regarding the space environment, and particularly regarding hazards to infrastructure in orbit and on the ground.
In general, these hazards stem from possible collisions between objects in orbit, harmful space weather and potential strikes by natural objects that cross Earth's orbit.
The SSA programme is enabling Europe to detect hazards to critical space infrastructure. This artist's impression shows a possible design for the future radar system, which will scan low Earth orbits to detect hazardous debris objects and deliver data to a catalogue database. Credits: ESA - P. Carrill
Nicolas Bobrinsky is head of ESA's Space Situational Awareness Preparatory Programme. Credits: ESA/J. Mai http://www.juergenmai.com