Eleven years ago, the Inuvik antenna of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) commenced operations. Located within the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories of Canada, the ground station is well positioned to receive data from the satellites of the German TanDEM-X Earth observation mission. DLR's German Remote Sensing Data Center (Deutsches Fernerkundungsdatenzentrum; DFD) celebrated the anniversary together with the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation (CCMEO) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on 10 June 2021. The event had been planned on occasion of the tenth anniversary of DLR’s activities at the station but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The celebration was held virtually and with international partners.
The satellite station in Inuvik complements, among others, the DLR ground station in Neustrelitz and the German Antarctic Station GARS O'Higgins. Earth observation satellites such as the TanDEM-X satellite pair travel in polar orbits as the planet rotates underneath them. Thus, after a number of orbits, a satellite has observed Earth's entire surface. During each of these orbits, which last approximately 90 minutes, a satellite crosses the north and south polar regions. The conditions here are good for retrieving the recorded data as often and as quickly as possible, and for sending new commands to the satellite. The data and commands are transmitted on dedicated frequencies in the microwave range. The data are received on the ground using large, steerable parabolic antennas.
In 2009, DLR began construction of the first 13-metre antenna at the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF). The CSA and the CCMEO supported the project. After DLR, the Swedish Space Corporation (SSC) also built an antenna. The CCMEO operates the ISSF and has also set up its own systems for Earth observation missions there.
Longstanding cooperation of international partners celebrated
Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, addressed the long-standing cooperation at the ceremony: "Our success would not be possible without our international partners. I greatly appreciate the collaboration with our partners from Sweden and Canada."
DLR's antenna at Inuvik has now received data from more than 30,000 overpasses by the TanDEM-X satellites. Since 2018, it has also been receiving data from the Sentinel-5P satellite that is part of the European Copernicus Earth observation programme. Inuvik's location and the ISSF's capabilities are also interesting for new, commercial satellite constellations.
"Since its beginning, the station has become a vital international hub for Earth observation, welcoming Germany as its first member," said Luc Brûlé, Vice-President, Science and Technology at the CSA. "This milestone marked a new chapter in Canada and Germany's close partnership in space activities."
Hansjörg Dittus, DLR Executive Board member for Space Research and Technology, said: "I would like to emphasise the extraordinarily good and, above all, long-standing cooperation with the CSA, the Canadian institutions NRCan, CCMEO, NRC, as well as the Canadian space industry. This became the basis for access and operation of the antennas in Inuvik. The 11 years in operation show great promise a continued successful cooperation."
CCMEO Director General Eric Loubier congratulated DLR on their milestone, and thanked them for sparking the ISSF. He outlined the decades-long relationship between NRCan and DLR, and expressed optimism for the future. DFD Director Stefan Dech addressed the logistical challenges involved in building and operating such ground stations. For this, he can rely on the expertise and experience of the i nstitutions. DLR established the German Antarctic Receiving Station (GARS) O'Higgins station back in 1991. It is located at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and is still in operation today. "After establishing a second polar station in Inuvik in the Canadian Arctic, we have continued to expand our technological capabilities in both polar regions for the benefit of Earth observation," Dech emphasised.
The 50th anniversary of Canadian-German scientific and technological cooperation was also once again celebrated during the virtual event.