The Kilpisjärvi Atmospheric Imaging Receiver Array (KAIRA) is a dual array of omnidirectional VHF radio antennas located near Kilpisjärvi, Finland. It is operated by the Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory. It makes extensive use of the proven LOFAR antenna and digital signal-processing hardware, and can act as a stand-alone passive receiver, as a receiver for the European Incoherent Scatter (EISCAT) very high frequency (VHF) incoherent scatter radar in Tromsø, or for use in conjunction with other Fenno-Scandinavian VHF experiments. In addition to being a powerful observing instrument in its own right, KAIRA will act as a pathfinder for technologies to be used in the planned EISCAT_3-D phased-array incoherent scatter radar system and participate in very long baseline interferometry experiments. This paper gives an overview of KAIRA, its principal hardware and software components, and its main science objectives. We demonstrate the applicability of the radio astronomy technology to our geoscience application. Furthermore, we present a selection of results from the commissioning phase of this new radio observatory.