10 years SAR-Lupe!

What is SAR-Lupe capable of?

OHB Redaktionsteam
Published on
by OHB Redaktionsteam, OHB SE

OHB celebrated a very special anniversary at the end of 2017. The project that gave the company its first big break has been working reliably round the clock for ten years: the SAR-Lupe reconnaissance system.

The programme was the Federal Republic of Germany’s first national space-based reconnaissance programme and a springboard for OHB’s success today.

Dr Fritz Merkle, member of the Management Board of OHB SE

“The German armed forces and the Federal Ministry of Defence took a leap of faith and gave OHB the break it needed to become a German systems integrator,” said Marco Fuchs, CEO of OHB SE. At a reception in Bonn specially organised by OHB to celebrate ten years since SAR-Lupe went live, Lieutenant General (ret.) Kurt Herrmann, Commander of Strategic Reconnaissance for the armed forces and therefore the first person to use SAR-Lupe said, “What I remember most is the positive, cooperative relationship not just within the team but with the Fuchs family as well. It was excellent.” SAR-Lupe was the first time OHB was the prime contractor on a satellite programme. The company developed and built the satellite system and shares responsibility for its operation with the German armed forces. “It was a project that meant a great deal to us,” said Dr Fritz Merkle, from 2014 to 2018 member of the Management Board of OHB SE. “The programme was the Federal Republic of Germany’s first national space-based reconnaissance programme and a springboard for OHB’s success today.”

The five SAR-Lupe satellites have been circling the Earth for ten years, reliably transmitting up-to-date images of almost every single corner of the planet. No matter whether it’s day or night, cloudy or clear in the territory in question, the images from the identical microsatellites received by the ground station in Gelsdorf near Bonn are always of excellent quality and therefore of immense value to the armed forces for global reconnaissance. For example, when it comes to identifying emerging crises, satellite images are obtained without infringing on territorial sovereignty and possibly aggravating an already critical situation. Furthermore, SAR-Lupe has been expanded to the extent that it can be used in conjunction with the French optical reconnaissance system Helios II and thus serves as a common European satellite system for strategic reconnaissance.

SAR-Lupe promoted OHB from a lower division to the premier league

Dr Fritz Merkle, member of the Management Board of OHB SE

The Galileo proposal was written based on the company’s experience with the satellites in the SAR-Lupe series, of which all five have an identical build. “SAR-Lupe promoted OHB from a lower division to the premier league,” said Merkle. Dr Ingo Engeln, member of the Management Board of OHB System AG and SAR-Lupe project manager at the time, added, “OHB learned a great deal from SAR-Lupe. Many people who were on the team back then are today in managerial positions at OHB.”

But SAR-Lupe is and was important not only for the employees: the company itself benefits from the good working relationship with the client and the excellent quality it delivered. “Our work today ties in with the programme back then. Right now we are working on developing further systems for the Federal Republic of Germany. Since 2013, OHB has also been the prime contractor on SAR-Lupe’s follow-on programme SARah”, says Marco R. Fuchs.

The team in Bremen is responsible for the realisation of the system as a whole, which consists of three satellites and the dedicated ground infrastructure. Just like the name SAR-Lupe, the first three letters of SARah stand for the imaging technology Synthetic Aperture Radar. While the two SARah satellites built by OHB System are an upgrade of the SAR-Lupe models and are based on reflector technology, the satellite provided by Airbus DS features phased-array technology. Both technologies have been tried and tested in space. The system facilitates better resolution, faster data download times and noticeably shorter system response times. The first-time combination of the two different technologies – reflector and phased array – and the use of another receiver make SARah much more powerful than SAR-Lupe.

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Further articles on SAR-Lupe, SARah and reconnaissance: