The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has initiated a new chapter in earth observation. The premier of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Erwin Sellering, and the chair of the DLR executive board, Prof. Pascale Ehrenfreund, inaugurated the operation of a tri-band ground station in Neustrelitz on 4 May 2016.
Neustrelitz ground station – an essential link in the global network of receiving stations
National and international satellite missions like the European Earth Observation programme Copernicus increasingly require ever more powerful reception equipment. For example, the new European Sentinel satellites are providing a massive flow of earth observation data about the state of earth’s ecosystem. The large number of new missions, the introduction of new transmission technologies using relay satellites, and the exponentially increasing amount of data made it necessary to augment DLR facilities in Neustrelitz by adding a new antenna system.
"For DLR’s German Remote Sensing Data Center the Neustrelitz ground station is an essential link in the global network of receiving stations and an important component of the research environment", is how Prof. Ehrenfreund explains the need for the new station. "This infrastructure makes it possible for us not only to use the data collected from many satellites for our own research activities, but also to make them available to the international research community. In addition, it stimulates new research activities that make an important contribution to the regional innovation strategy of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and to developing Neustrelitz as a science hub", she adds.
Tri-band antenna makes possible faultless acquisition of four times as much data
With a diameter of 11.5 metres and an area of 103 square metres the new antenna has a reflector surface more than twice as large as previous systems. The large parabolic mirror thus guarantees faultless data transmission despite the low transmitting power of the Sentinel satellites. "The new antenna will be especially advantageous for the increasingly important near-real-time applications. It is now possible to have more contact time with the satellites, to tap new data sources, and to transmit up four-fold the previous data volume. This is a significant advantage for our own work and also for developing new applications and commercial services” explains Prof. Stefan Dech, director of the The German Remote Sensing Data Center (DFD) (DFD). The distinctive feature is the tri-band system, "which allows the antenna to operate in three frequency ranges to fill diverse functions", Dr Dech stresses.
Using the especially powerful Ka-band allows data transmission from geostationary satellites, such as via the European Data Relay Satellite System (EDRS). "This gives us access to the data highway that sends urgently required data packets from earth observation satellite to the ground via relay satellites in near-real-time", explains Holger Maass, head of DFD in Neustrelitz. In the future earth observation satellites will themselves directly transmit in Ka-band. So far, most data is transferred with a robust X-band signal when the satellite is in direct visual contact with the ground station.
Counting this new system, DFD now has four large antennas in Neustrelitz. "We can, as a result, independently contact different satellites, either simultaneously or in close succession, thereby minimizing data and time losses", adds Mr Maass. In addition, a third frequency band, the so-called S-band, is available as needed to send control commands to the satellite.
Benefits for maritime safety
Because of its flexibility, the new tri-band antenna assures rapid and continuous access especially to data relating to Europe’s Copernicus Programme and makes it possible to conduct research in the area of innovative transmission technologies. In addition to climate change research being carried out by DFD and universities, the Maritime Safety Research Department established in Neustrelitz in 2014 also greatly profits from the new infrastructure. In this field the time factor is decisive—whether it is a question of correctly identifying oil pollution, analysing wave and wind fields, tracking icebergs, classifying ice layers, or detecting damaged or captured ships. The interdisciplinary cooperation of engineers and scientists facilitates the development of algorithms tailored to the acquisition systems so that essential environmental and situational information about the maritime environment can be made available in near-real-time.
The total cost of the tri-Band ground station was 3.2 million euro. Of this amount, two million euro was provided by the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and half a million euro by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy as part of an allocation for "R&D for Maritime Safety and Associated Near-Real-Time Services" made by the budget committee of the German Parliament. In addition, DLR’s Earth Observation Center financed the construction of the antenna.