ICARUS: Start of scientific operations

Monitoring global animal migration from space – this is now possible for international animal behaviour researchers. ICARUS, the animal tracking system in space, successfully completed its test phase on the International Space Station (ISS) by 31 August 2020 and has started scientific operations in September. The first research project will be a study on the migration of more than 2,000 tagged blackbirds and thrushes in Europe, Russia and North America. Several hundred research groups around the globe have already expressed an interest in using ICARUS for joint studies in the field of animal behaviour research.

ICARUS is a joint project between the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz and the University of Konstanz, Germany, in cooperation with the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The project’s scientific director is Professor Martin Wikelski, director at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and honorary professor at the University of Konstanz. The ICARUS project, together with 24 other project partnerships, will be recognized by the foreign ministries of Germany and Russia in the context of a competition organized to promote university collaboration between the two countries called “Brücken für die deutsch-russische Hochschulzusammenarbeit” in Berlin on 15 September 2020.

Data transmission fifteen times better than expected

“Data transmission from earth to the ISS works ten to fifteen times better than expected”, Martin Wikelski comments on the successful completion of the four-month test phase: “Now we can get started with our research projects”, Wikelski says, who is also a Principal Investigator of the Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz. After 17 years of preparations, the ICARUS antenna had been attached to the exterior of the International Space Station on 15 August 2018. When it went live in 2019, test operations had to be interrupted as the power supply for an on-board-computer was not working and had to be replaced. Once the new computer was set up, the four-month test phase continued in the spring/summer 2020 and is now successfully completed.

How ICARUS works

At the core of ICARUS are transmitters that weigh only four grams and can even be attached to small animals such as songbirds. These miniature trackers continuously record behaviour and health data of the animals. Environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity and air pressure can also be recorded by the transmitters. Via the ICARUS antenna in space, the data of these animals can be picked up almost anywhere on the planet – even in remote, hardly accessible regions and on the oceans. The project will make it possible, for the first time, to continuously monitor animal migration around the world, thus helping to answer fundamental questions about ecological interrelationships on our planet and to better protect the animals. All data collected will be stored in the public, freely accessible database for animal movements called “Movebank” and can also be received via the app “Animal Tracker” free of charge.

Key facts:

* The animal tracking system in space ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) successfully completed its four-month test phase on the International Space Station (ISS) by 31 August 2020. Scientific operations started in September.

* Pilot project: Study on the migration of more than 2,000 tagged blackbirds and thrushes in Europe, Russia and North America.

* ICARUS is a joint project between the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz and the University of Konstanz in cooperation with the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

* Scientific director: Professor Martin Wikelski, director at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and honorary professor at the University of Konstanz.

* The ICARUS project, together with 24 other project partnerships, will be recognized by the foreign ministries of Germany and Russia in the context of a competition organized to promote university collaboration between the two countries called “Brücken für die deutsch-russische Hochschulzusammenarbeit” in Berlin on 15 September 2020.

* Further information on the ICARUS project can be found at https://www.uni-konstanz.de/en/university/news-and-media/current-announcements/news/news-in-detail/ICARUS–Tierbeobachtung-aus-dem-Weltraum-13449/

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