Germany demonstrates passive radar system using Starlink satellite beam

Germany is researching a new passive radar system to detect and image targets using the signal from the Starlink satellite network, with details of a working demonstrator appearing in the German Ministry of Defense’s latest annual report on defense technology. published on January 15, 2024.

The Starlink network’s opportunistic use of existing transmitters opens the door for stealth operation that is resistant to jamming and better at detecting stealth targets, according to the report.

Even by modern standards, Starlink is a huge constellation, consisting of more than 3000 satellites. From an altitude of 550 km, the low earth orbit satellites provide all-weather global coverage with a strong bandwidth signal to Starlink customers as well as users in Ukraine.

For the purposes of the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR), designers of the SABBIA 2.0 passive radar demonstration system, this is an ideal set of circumstances. The large number of Starlink satellites means that objects can be illuminated from multiple directions, bringing into view objects that might be hidden in practical situations where there is only one transmitter.

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The system uses a high-gain reference antenna to track a selected Starlink satellite and copy its signal, and a second surveillance antenna pointed at an observation area to receive echoes from its target.

By observing the behavior of the Starlink satellite, the SABBIA 2.0 passive radar system can detect targets without emitting its own radar signal. It can also operate from a moving platform, such as a ship, as it does not transmit a signal from its position, and its own motion can be compensated for.

In addition to the energy-saving benefits of opportunistically using Starlink radiation to operate a passive radar system, the system is difficult to detect by adversaries and therefore cannot be easily disrupted by jamming radiation.

A new prototype from FHR has begun to combine the Starlink signal with radiation from geostationary television satellites to create continuous radar imaging, enabling radar images that can be captured for remote sensing.

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