European Debris Tracking Radar Advancements

Sarah Wall

European debris tracking radar advancements

Europe’s space debris-tracking radars are growing in number and strength:

Recent events have made it abundantly clear how important space surveillance and tracking (SST) is to maintaining a safe and sustainable space environment. On 28 February, two defunct spacecraft – one from NASA and one from Russia – passed within just 20 meters of each other.

 

European space radar advancements.

 

Two weeks earlier, SpaceX announced plans to deliberately deorbit 100 Starlink satellites because of a potential design flaw that could have led to numerous failures in low Earth orbit (LEO).

The first line of defense in protecting the space environment is knowing what’s up there, and while the U.S. military provides most of the world’s SST data, E

European governments are bolstering their own sensor networks to meet national objectives. Here are five new radars Europe is developing to keep track of debris and satellites in space.

 

The GESTRA space radar in Germany

 

1. The GESTRA space radar in Germany

Germany has spent 10 years developing an experimental radar called GESTRA, short for “German Experimental Space Surveillance and Tracking Radar.” Weighing 90 metric tons, the GESTRA radar entered service in January 2024, and can track space objects up to 3,000 kilometers above sea level. The German Space Situational Awareness Centre runs GESTRA, which was built by Fraunhofer on behalf of the German DLR Space Agency. Up next? Using GESTRA to build a German catalog of objects in space.

 

The GRAVES radar in France

 

2. The GRAVES radar in France

France was the fourth country in the world to conduct radar-based SST, after the U.S., Russia and China. The most notable French radar is GRAVES (the Grand Réseau Adapté à la Veille Spatiale), which can track objects up to 1,000 kilometers. GRAVES entered service in 2005, but French research agency ONERA is working with radar specialist Degreane Horizon to modernize the radar and extend its life to 2030.

The UK's AUKUS partnership

 

3. The UK’s AUKUS partnership

The UK struck a trilateral agreement in December with Australia and the US where each country will contribute one radar for a global SST network. Called the Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability, or DARC, the UK plans to build its radar at the Cawdor Barracks military site in Pembrokeshire Wales. Its construction is expected to contribute up to 100 jobs to the region.

 

Romania's CHEIA radar upgrade

 

4. Romania’s CHEIA radar upgrade

The European Space Agency helped finance the conversion of two large parabolic antennas into radars for SST. The CHEIA dishes, built in the 1970s for telecommunications, had been decommissioned, but gained new life when Romanian-Italian company Rartel modernized the site. CHEIA entered service tracking satellites and debris in early 2023, and are the tip of the spear for Romania’s growing contribution to European SST.

Spain’s S3T Surveillance Radar

 

5. Spain’s S3T Surveillance Radar

The Spanish Space Surveillance and Tracking Surveillance Radar (S3TSR) has been operating 24/7 since 2019, but last year the country decided to give it a boost. Tech conglomerate Indra is upgrading S3TSR to add more antennas and quadruple the power of the site. The improvements will enable the site to detect smaller debris in LEO. Indra also has plans for a “V3” upgrade that would multiply S3TSR’s power 16-fold from today.

 

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