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The Tracking and Imaging Radar (TIRA) is operated by Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques, and is located at Wachtberg, Germany.
It is unique in Europe and 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.
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 'golf ball' from a great distance.
The radome 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 rotation takes 15 seconds.
As the name implies, the TIRA system comprises a tracking radar and an imaging radar. The narrow-band, fully coherent, high power tracking radar has a transmission frequency in L-band (1,333 GHz) and the wide-band imaging radar has a transmission frequency in Ku-band (16.7 GHz) and is currently equipped with a high target resolution.
The space observation radar TIRA is a unique system that offers space agencies all over the world (outside the USA) the possibility to measure orbits 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 (see 'Space imaging radar to track ATV tonight').
In recent years, Fraunhofer researchers 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 reentered the atmosphere.
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.
More information via Fraunhofer FHR web.