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Animation: TanDEM-X and TerraSAR-X

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The successful German radar satellite TerraSAR-X (launched on 15 June 2007) is to work alongside its virtually identical 'sister' satellite TanDEM-X (launch scheduled for October 2009) to measure the Earth with a very high standard of precision.

To achieve this, they will be flying in close formation, separated by distances of between 200 metres and several kilometres, with their radar technology enabling them to operate through cloud cover and at night, two things which optical systems are unable to accomplish.

With the help of this dual satellite formation, it will now be possible accurately to measure the entire land surface of the Earth, an area of some 150 million square kilometres, within a period of just three years. This will involve the use of a 12-metre grid (the width of a road) to obtain information on physical relief (altitude), accurate to within just two metres.

Animation: Astrium.