»Incredibly exciting«

»Incredibly exciting«

© Fraunhofer FHR

Robert Kohlleppel joined Fraunhofer FHR as an undergraduate in 2007. On completion of his studies, he worked for the institute as a research assistant and completed his doctorate with distinction in 2015. In autumn, he was appointed team leader.

Dr. Kohlleppel, you have been with the institute for eight years. How did you end up at Fraunhofer FHR?

Dr. Kohlleppel: I studied electrical engineering and information technology at the Ruhr University in Bochum. Traditionally, there is a long connection between RUB and Fraunhofer FHR. It was in this context that I met Professor Ender and was introduced to radar research area and Fraunhofer FHR. I also noticed during my studies that I was not only good at signal processing but also really enjoyed it. This was an area I really wanted to delve into. It therefore made a lot of sense to do my thesis at Fraunhofer FHR as there were many exciting tasks in the area of radar signal processing.

You also completed your doctorate in this area at the beginning of the year. What was the title of your doctoral dissertation?

Dr. Kohlleppel: The title was »Ground moving target tracking with space-time adaptive radar«. It deals with the subjects of target tracking and target detection using radar systems. Up to now, these two themes were considered to be worlds apart. It simply makes sense to make a clear cut after radar signal processing. In many cases these two tasks are dealt with in different departments, as is the case here at our institute. My work connects the two worlds and presents them as a unit. In the course of my work I have also developed a new algorithm for ground target tracking, in which radar signal processing is closely integrated into target tracking. The advantage is that better target tracking results can be achieved through improved modeling of the radar measurements. It is also noteworthy that the methods involving experimental data – which we recorded with the Fraunhofer FHR experimental system PAMIR – are validated within the framework of my work.

You became a father during your doctoral studies. I imagine family, profession and doctorate was quite a juggling act!

Dr. Kohlleppel: The family came to being in the last phase of my doctoral studies. Returning to my dissertation shortly after the birth was not so easy. But when I got to the stage that I could submit my work to the advisors for their comments I was able to take longer parental leave. Fraunhofer FHR was very supportive.

You were appointed team leader in September. How do you like your new task?

Dr. Kohlleppel: Yes, that just happened a couple of weeks ago. This is also a newly established focal point at FHR. Four weeks ago, at the beginning of October, I was assigned my first employee and a second followed just last week! But I'm really enjoying it. I am looking forward to conducting joint research on a theme, guiding my employees, passing on my knowledge and jointly creating a greater picture from a wealth of ideas and research results.

What are the main activities of your team?

Dr. Kohlleppel: We focus on radar signal processing for space surveillance. One task, for example, involves the design and implementation of signal processing for the large-scale GESTRA project. On the one hand, we have research, and on the other, the techniques we are currently developing which will soon be used in the GESTRA project. I find this incredibly exciting. My doctoral dissertation was a research paper. Hence, there were – at that time – no customers in sight. It's totally different here: the things we develop are really needed and, despite this, it is by no means routine work. We have to create completely new concepts, which is great! Of course we have time limits and deadlines, but I view this positively as I know that I just have to wait a couple of years to see the results of the work.

The large-scale GESTRA project focuses on the design of an innovative radar system for the scientific documentation of space situational awareness. Why is space situational awareness such an important theme?

Dr. Kohlleppel: Space situational awareness is extremely important because we use near-Earth space very intensively; for communication, navigation and other satellite-based services. These are currently threatened by possible collisions with other satellites or debris particles that are flying around in orbit. A very good knowledge of the orbits of these objects is important to plan potential evasive maneuvers in the future. The surveillance of near-Earth space is a very important task for society as a whole. And radar is the ideal sensor to acquire this information.