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Germany installs space debris tracking radar

Christian Fernsby |
After five years of development and construction, Germany's first space radar was installed near the city of Koblenz, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) announced on Tuesday.


The technology, worth 44.5 million euros (52.3 million U.S. dollars), was designed to detect and monitor space debris in low Earth orbit, according to the DLR. Operators of satellites could use the data to slow down or change the flight altitudes of their spacecraft in case of an imminent collision.

Formally known as the German Experimental Space Surveillance and Tracking Radar (GESTRA), it was built by the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques and was installed at a Bundeswehr (German Federal Defense Forces) facility.

The radar system is "unique in its design." It has a transmitter and receiver system housed in two separate containers, which could be set up at other locations as well, the DLR noted. The antenna was made of 256 electronically controlled transmitter and receiver modules.

"The experimental radar will make a decisive contribution to securing our satellites in low-Earth orbit," said Walther Pelzer, Executive Board member and head of the DLR Space Administration.

Once GESTRA is operational, probably at the beginning of 2021 after the completion of all tests, "Germany will begin receiving independent data for the creation of its own catalogue of objects in low-Earth orbit for the first time," said Pelzer.

The increase in human activities in space has resulted in ever growing amounts of space debris, including discarded satellite and rocket parts, which cause a potential danger of collision. The International Space Station (ISS), for example, is permanently monitored to avoid such collisions.

"We are currently experiencing an almost exponential growth in the use of space," said Thomas Jarzombek, a member of the German federal parliament and federal government coordinator of Germany's aerospace policy. More than 3,000 active satellites are currently orbiting the Earth.

"We need to know exactly where the satellites and tens of thousands of space debris objects are at any given time in order to prevent catastrophic collisions," stressed Jarzombek.


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