On the Back of the Birds

Published by Max Planck Institute on Mon, 09/14/2015 - 14:36
The drone as a bird – Prof. Andreas Knopp (l.) and  his research assistant Christian Hofmann use a  simulation to understand the distribution character- istics of signals in the best way possible





 The drone as a bird – Prof. Andreas Knopp (l.) and his research assistant Christian Hofmann use a simulation to understand the distribution characteristics of signals in the best way possible.

The research association “ICARUS” analyzes the migratory behavior of amongst others birds and bats in order to anticipate the spread of diseases and natural disasters – Prof. Andreas Knopp, Chair of Signal Processing, and his team provide the necessary know-how.

MRSA, SARS, bird flu – the list of rapidly spreading diseases is long. Also earthquakes and floods endanger human lives. In order to enable a timely reaction to these, the research association “ICARUS”, led by the renowned Constance-based Professor Martin Wikelski, Head of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, now observes the migratory behavior of small animals such as birds, bats and insects from space. The group receives technical support from Professor Andreas Knopp and his team at the Bundeswehr University Munich. They take over a decisive role in the development of complex transmitting and measuring techniques for the project.

Professor Knopp and the research assistants Christian Hofmann and Robert Schwarz at the Institute for Information Technology at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology analyze the distribution characteristics of signals, which have to bridge a distance of 400 km from a mini transmitter on the back of the animals to the International Space Station. They investigate how the transmitter – adjusted to the low body weight between 1-5g – works with as little energy as possible and how it shows appropriate signal strength even if subjected to difficult weather conditions. Energy consumption is the decisive factor for the weight of the future transmitter and thus also determines which animals can be observed.

Contrary to the direct communication of an earth station with the International Space Station, the mini transmitter broadcasts its signal into different directions due to its little antenna. The signal will then be reflected by the ground as well as surrounding objects and overlaps with itself at its receiver within a time lag. This effect leads to specific, time-dependent attenuations of the signal, whose extent is determined by Professor Knopp and his team through measurements. The results are incorporated into the design of the planned ICARUS system, which will be installed onto the Russian module of the International Space Station in 2016. The project is headed by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology.

Tiny transmitter, great potential

“The transmission power is the critical factor,” explains Professor Knopp. In a complex experimental setup, which amongst others uses a drone equipped with transmitting and measuring technique that simulates the bird and an airplane that simulates the overflight of the ISS, the research team attempts to understand the distribution characteristics of the signals in the best way possible. Together with the researchers of Max Planck, who contributed the airplane and with head Wikelski also the pilot themselves and gave instructions on the typical behavior of the birds, they carried out measurements in different places around Munich – from small to medium-sized villages such as Bayrischzell and Neubiberg through to regions characterized by water and mountain landscapes such as Lake Ammer and Lake Schlier.

“Every environment has various effects on the signal. From the measurements and analyses we then develop a model, which can be used for the optimization of the transmitting system later. This is necessary in order to get the most out of the small battery in the transmitter,” adds Christian Hofmann. Within the future system the ISS will wake the mini transmitter from its energy-saving mode only for a short time, when it has visual contact to the bird on its flight. The transmitter on the back of the bird then sends a signal to the space station within a few seconds. The data volume of only a few 100 bits would not even be sufficient to send a text message. The signals contain important data about the body functions of the animal as well as its position and movements. This way the researchers of Max Planck want to use the senses of the animals, through which they are hoping to, for example, draw significant conclusions about impending natural disasters.

Simulation with the Bundeswehr satellite

Apart from its long-term experience in theory and practice the research team enriches the project in another special way: “We have been able to also carry out measurements via the communication satellites of the Bundeswehr and thus simulate the ISS. Today, the Bundeswehr is the only national satellite operator in Germany and is one of only a few nations, which has access to the necessary frequency band. Of course, in this case we benefit from the good cooperation with other Bundeswehr institutions – they support us in a quick and uncomplicated way, where the military main task allows for it. The Bundeswehr has excellent technical equipment that other institutions are short of. In particular within this project this was an invaluable asset, even for an otherwise excellently equipped research institution such as Max Planck,” emphasizes Professor Knopp.

Text Eva Olschewski. Translation: Melina Rosa Saur

The Critical Design Review (Part 1) of the ICARUS Space Project successfully achieved

Published by Max Planck Institute on Mon, 05/18/2015 - 14:28
The Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology held the Critical Design Review (CDR), Part1 - covering the ISS inboard equipment, from April 22 to April 23, 2015 in Radolfzell.

The review was carried out according to the strict DLR (German Aerospace) guidelines and achieved the technical maturity of the CDR (1) successfully.

The CDR (Part 2) covering the ISS Antenna is expected for review by end of July. The launch of ICARUS is now scheduled for August 2016.

The Max-Planck thanks the Review Board, Review-  and Technical Team for their big support in the project.

The ambitious and globally unique ICARUS project receives funding from ROSKOSMOS

Published by Max Planck Institute on Thu, 12/04/2014 - 09:17
International Space Station ISS, copyright NASA

Observing small animals from space will soon be reality

 Billions of songbirds migrate from one continent to another every year. Many species of bat and innumerable species of insect also cover large distances – and also possibly change continents in the process. We unfortunately have no accurate knowledge about this, as scientists have not yet been able to follow small and tiny animals during their long journey. Yet such knowledge plays an important role in understanding how pathogens are spread by their hosts, for example. In order to remedy this global lack of knowledge on the spread of small and tiny animals and their particular migratory behaviour, the ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) project was inaugurated in 2012 by an international consortium of scientists.  The ratification of a bilateral agreement between the Russian space agency ROSKOSMOS and the DLR Space Administration means a decisive step has now been taken towards satellite-based remote sensing of animal migration from space.

 “The agreement with ROSKOSMOS ensures, among other things, that Russia’s contribution, especially the installation on the Russian part of the International Space Station, matches the German contributions,” explains Martin Wikelski. The Director at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPIO) in Radolfzell and full professor at the University of Constance is the key driving force behind this globally unique research project, which the European Science Foundation assessed as being scientifically excellent in 2009 in the ELIPS programme of the European Space Agency (ESA), and which the DLR Space Administration has funded since March 2012 as a German national project. “The public funding is an important step towards an independent ICARUS satellite constellation in a low Earth orbit which will enable us to make global, long-term observations of small and tiny animals from space with comprehensive geographic coverage,” says Wikelski.

 The major project kicked off in March 2012 with a feasibility study and has been in the implementation phase since August 2013. The Space Administration of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is funding ICARUS as part of the “National space programme space station and manned spaceflight”. In parallel with the DLR funding measures, the Max Planck Society has been providing € 1.7 million from its own funds since December 2013 for the miniaturisation of the ICARUS radio chip. Funding of approx. € 19 million is available for the years to come to develop the technologies required for the project. The main contractor and technical project manager of the MPIO is SpaceTech GmbH, Immenstaad, Lake Constance, which has a very high level of competence in the field of aerospace technology.

 The experimental ICARUS system is expected to be installed on the Russian service module of the international Space Station ISS in spring 2016. The scientists hope the data generated by ICARUS will provide them with revolutionary findings on the life, behaviour, vital functions and death of animals on our planet.  The Russian side of the scientific collaboration is headed by Dr. Grigori Tertitski, a biologist at the Institute for Geography of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He is currently coordinating 16 major projects of Russian ecologists, who will use the ICARUS technology from 2016 onwards. The globally collated data allow conclusions to be drawn on the spread of diseases (zoonoses), findings on climate change, and the forecasting of disasters. “There is no doubt that the anticipated research findings will be of inestimable importance for humankind, and ultimately for our life on Earth,” emphasises Martin Wikelski.

ICARUS Scientific Kick-Off Workshop Russia

Published by Max Planck Institute on Mon, 11/24/2014 - 14:27

Organized by the IG RAS (Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences) and the MPIO (Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Radolfzell), the first Russian-German ICARUS kick-off Workshop was held at the Russian Academy of Sciences Headquarter Moscow from November 19th-21st. The 16 winners of the contest "ICARUS Russia" presented their most interesting and challenging scientific experiments for the ICARUS experimental phase which will start in summer 2016 after the launch of ICARUS on the ISS (International Space Station).



Please see the presentations of the projects by following the link: 
scientific presentations

ICARUS side event on CMS/COP11 meeting in Quito/Ecuador on Nov. 7th, 2014

Published by Max Planck Institute on Mon, 11/10/2014 - 11:44

Organized by the Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology and the University of Konstanz, this event showcased the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) system – a global collaboration of animal scientists establishing satellite-based infrastructure for the observation of small species, including birds, bats and sea turtles. Martin Wilkeski, Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology, explained the system, highlighting that it consists of both space-borne elements including the International Space Center, and earth-borne elements including miniaturized animal tags.
Participants at the event discussed the importance of ICARUS, including its uses in disaster forecasting, conservation and discovery of unknown migrations.
UNEP/CMS/COP11 final resolution:
"Acknowledging that the ability to increasingly track animals globally will greatly enhance the knowledge base for informed conservation decision making, for example through global tracking initiatives such as ICARUS (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space), planned to be implemented on the International Space Station by the German and Russian Aerospace Centres (DLR and Roscosmos) by the end of 2015; "

Migration ecology (Tracking animal movement)

29. For many migratory species knowledge of their migration routes, the timing of their migration and consequently threats during their migration is missing. Furthermore there is a high number of endangered species, especially smaller ones, where it is unknown if they exhibit migratory behaviour. New technologies, such as those developed under the ICARUS project7, and new methodologies will make tracking of smaller animals feasible. Increasing application of existing animal tracking methodology and adoption of new technology and methods, holds great promise to improve knowledge on the migratory behaviour of many species. Several research institutes and universities advance research on tracking animal movement, including, for example, the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the members of ICARUS. Keeping up to date on these new technologies and promoting their use among CMS Parties is an issue that can help bring forward the CMS agenda in the coming years, particularly the Convention’s work on connectivity and ecological networks.