Space observation radar TIRA

Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR

Innenansicht des Weltraumbeobachungsradars TIRA
© Fraunhofer FHR

A globally unique system

The space observation radar TIRA (Tracking and Imaging Radar) is not only the institute's largest experimental system, it is also unique in Europe. Moreover, the system holds several world records.

The system primarily serves as the central experimental facility for the development and investigation of radar techniques for the detection and reconnaissance of objects in space. TIRA also provides valuable support for space missions: space agencies from all over the world use the special capabilities of the Fraunhofer scientists and their system.

Building

The radar is protected by a radome (white cover). The radome has a diameter of 47 meters and is therefore the largest of its kind worldwide. The building has an overall height of approximately 56 meters and can be seen as a white "ball" from a great distance.

Technology

The "ball" accommodates an antenna with a diameter of 34 meters. It can be turned 360° in azimuth (horizontal) and 90° in elevation (vertical). The movable part weighs 240 tons and can be turned at a speed of 24° per second (in azimuth), i.e. a full rotationtakes 15 seconds.

As the name implies, the TIRA system comprises a tracking radar and an imaging radar. The narrowband, fully coherent, high power tracking radar has a transmission frequency in L-band (1,333 GHz) and the wideband imaging radar has a transmission frequency in Ku-band (16.7 GHz) and is currently equipped with a high target resolution.

Applications

The space observation radar TIRA is a unique system that offers space agencies all over the world (outside the USA) the possibility to measure the orbit with high precision or produce a high resolution image of objects such as satellites. The system is therefore used to gain precise measurements of space debris, prevent evasive maneuvers for operative satellites or create an image of an object that has gone out of control. This includes technical faults or the uncontrolled re-entry of satellites into the Earth's atmosphere.

The Fraunhofer researchers recently supported the scientific community with measurement data and images of the German X-ray satellite ROSAT and the Russian space probe Phobos-Grunt as these crashed to earth. 

The radar data of space objects and internally developed techniques are used to determine characteristic features of the objects, e.g. orbital elements, intrinsic motion parameters, orbital lifetime, target shape and size, ballistic coefficient, mass and material properties.

World records held by the space observation radar TIRA

The TIRA system holds several world records, among others:

  • The radome (white cover) has a diameter of 49 meters and is therefore the largest of its kind worldwide.
  • The antenna is the fastest of its size with a horizontal rotating speed of 24 degrees per second.

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