SARAO has invested in a system to track aircraft and other airborne instruments with passive radar

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Download Passive Radar System Flyer (pdf)

The Passive Radar System has been designed and built in collaboration with Peralex, a South African company specialising in the design, manufacturing and implementation of cutting edge solutions for modern Digital Signal Processing problems, predominantly in the field of radio spectrum monitoring. The Passive Radar System operated by SARAO is based on the ComRad system built by Peralex.

The Passive Radar System has been deployed to detect aircraft and airborne instruments not operating with transponders, which can be potentially damaging to the SARAO instruments such as the MeerKAT radio telescope, which contains very sensitive receivers. These include radio transponders, navigation equipment, communications equipment, weather radars, radio altimeters, and transmitters used in avionics, engine monitoring and controls; and passenger or mission equipment.

The Passive Radar System can mitigate the risks associated with airborne radio frequency interference by detecting and tracking aircraft, telescope schedule and pointing; and optimising telescope flag data. These interventions can be performed by the Passive Radar System without introducing a new transmitter to the area of use.

Other uses include tracking low-flying small aircraft and drones related to cross-border actions, including animal poaching and smuggling. It can also be used for air awareness for small aircraft during fly-inns and air shows and for small regional airports or airports without conventional radars.

Since 2018 SARAO has tested and rolled out the Passive Radio System to three sites in the Karoo in the Northern Cape – the Visserskloof in the north-east core of the region and De Hoek, in the west core of the region and Alkantpan to the North East of the site. The monitoring of the sites takes place from the SARAO Control Room and the Radio Frequency Interference office in Cape Town.

For more information on the Passive Radar System, contact:

Ms. Keitumetse Molamu – Head: Engineering & Technology Development