8. July 2019
Space technology allows the tracking of animal migrations

An­i­mal ob­ser­va­tion sys­tem ICARUS is switched on

Martin Wikelski with a white stork wearing a trial ICARUS transmitter
ICARUS wildlife ob­ser­va­tion
Image 1/5, Credit: Max Planck Institute for Ornithology/MaxCine

ICARUS wildlife observation

Mar­tin Wikel­s­ki, Di­rec­tor of the Max Planck In­sti­tute for Or­nithol­o­gy and Prin­ci­pal In­ves­ti­ga­tor of the ICARUS project, with a white stork wear­ing a tri­al ICARUS trans­mit­ter (Tag). 
The ICARUS tag
Image 2/5, Credit: Max Planck Institute for Ornithology/MaxCine

The ICARUS tag

ICARUS in­tends to re­search glob­al mi­gra­tion flows of an­i­mals – small an­i­mals such as birds and bats will be the fo­cus at first. Tiny trans­mit­ters, which weigh less than five grams and are known as tags, col­lect in­for­ma­tion on their mi­gra­to­ry be­haviour and trans­mit this to the In­ter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion (ISS). En­tered in­to a database, the aim is to help pro­tect an­i­mals, bet­ter un­der­stand Earth’s cli­mate and the spread of dis­eases as well as help­ing to prac­tise more sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture.      
Miniaturised transmitters attached to animals
ICARUS - Re­search in­to an­i­mal lifestyles
Image 3/5, Credit: Bourry/DLR

ICARUS - Research into animal lifestyles

Us­ing minia­turised trans­mit­ters at­tached to an­i­mals, da­ta on their mi­gra­tions can be gath­ered and sent to the ISS. Reg­is­tered in a database, this in­for­ma­tion will help to pro­tect an­i­mals, to bet­ter un­der­stand the cli­mate and the spread of dis­ease, and to drive more sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture.      
ICARUS antenna on the ISS
ICARUS an­ten­na on the ISS
Image 4/5, Credit: ESA/NASA/AstroSerena

ICARUS antenna on the ISS

The ICARUS an­ten­na (right) on the ex­te­ri­or of the Rus­sian ISS seg­ment.      
ICARUS ground antenna in Immenstaad
ICARUS ground an­ten­na in Im­men­staad
Image 5/5, Credit: SpaceTech GmbH

ICARUS ground antenna in Immenstaad

An­ten­na for test­ing and mea­sur­ing ICARUS sig­nals at SpaceTech GmbH in Im­men­staad on Lake Con­stance.      
  • The German-Russian observation system for tracking animal migration patterns, ICARUS, will go into operation on 10 July 2019.
  • In the subsequent test phase, the ICARUS engineers and scientists will check the system components on the ground and on board the International Space Station (ISS), as well as the transmitters that collect the animals’ data.
  • ICARUS is expected to be available to the scientific community in autumn or winter 2019.
  • Focus: Space, International Space Station

The International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) is a cooperative project between the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) under the leadership of Martin Wikelski from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz. With the space-based observation system, scientists want to find out more about the life of animals on Earth: on which routes they migrate, under what conditions they live and, above all, how they can best be protected. Once it has been switched on, ICARUS engineers and scientists will check the system components on the ground, on board the International Space Station ISS, as well as the transmitters that collect the animals’ data. ICARUS is expected to be available to the scientific community in autumn or winter 2019 upon completion of all the tests.

Miniature transmitters on animals send data to space

The researchers are equipping different animal species with miniature transmitters that send their measurement data to a receiving station in space. The data is then transmitted to a ground station, from where it is sent to the respective research teams. The results are stored in the freely accessible Movebank database, as well as in a counterpart developed by RSC Energia and the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IG-RAS). The ICARUS equipment supports the Russian space research project Uragan (hurricane), developed to adapt Earth observation hardware and methods and to observe potentially dangerous phenomena. Uragan instruments are used to observe Earth’s surface and understand the reasons for changes in animal migration patterns.

On 10 July 2019, the Russian ground control centre will activate the ICARUS antenna and the on-board computer. The on-board computer is already on the ISS and the antenna was mounted on the exterior of the Zvezda module by Russian cosmonauts. A SpaceTech test ground station in Immenstaad on Lake Constance will also commence operations.

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Trailer: Animal Observation from Space - ICARUS
ICARUS intends to research the global migration flows of animals – at the focus first of all are small animals such as birds, bats or flying foxes. Tiny transmitters, which weigh less than five grams and are known as tags, collect information on their migratory behaviour and transmit this to the...
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Data transmission test to last several months

Over a period of three to four months, the ICARUS scientists will first test the transmission of the data from the transmitters via the ISS to the ground station. By measuring the background noise in the ICARUS frequency range, the researchers want to find out where the transmission of other signals could be disturbed. The engineers will then switch on the ICARUS transmitter on the ISS, which will later be used to program the animal transmitters. The test ground station will then record the transmission times and signal strength. Next, SpaceTech's engineers and their Russian colleagues from RSC Energia will determine the regions of the Earth that will be covered by the ISS as the antenna passes over. The transmitters can only transmit their data into space if they are within the signal cone of the antenna.

To observe the movement of thousands of animals across the globe, large amounts of data must be sent smoothly and safely from the transmitters into space and back again. During the test phase, a simulator will generate artificial transmitter signals which will be sent to the ICARUS module on board during each ISS flyby. With the simulator, researchers can test the transmission of data from individual transmitters – or from hundreds. After all, real transmitters are to send their data from test areas in Germany and Russia into space. The security of data transmission will also be tested.

Scientists around the world will be able to work with ICARUS

Once the tests have been completed and the results evaluated, ICARUS will begin routine operations. By the end of 2019, scientists across the globe should be able to work with ICARUS. The associated research projects on the Russian side will be managed by the Institute of Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IG-RAS).

  • Martin Schulz
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Ger­man Space Agen­cy at DLR, Strat­e­gy and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions
    Telephone: +49 228 447-124
    Fax: +49 228 447-386

  • Johannes Weppler
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    DLR Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Hu­man Space­flight, ISS and Ex­plo­ration
    Telephone: +49 228 447-385
    Fax: +49 228 447-737
    Königswinterer Straße 522-524
    53227 Bonn-Oberkassel
  • Martin Wikelski
    Max Planck In­sti­tute of An­i­mal Be­hav­ior
    Telephone: +49 7732 1501-25
  • Vasily Savinkow

    Manned Space Flight Pro­grams De­part­ment
    Telephone: +7 495 631-9000
  • Prof. Michail Beljajew
    Mis­sion Con­trol Cen­ter (TsUP)
    Mis­sion Con­trol Cen­ter      
    Telephone: +7 495 5137009
  • Wolfgang Pitz
    SpaceTech GmbH
    Telephone: +49 7545 93284-100
    Fax: +49 7545 93284-60

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