To track movements and behavior of animals, large and small, a Russian rocket is scheduled to be launched in June this year. The rocket will carry an array of sensitive dish antennae up to the International Space Station.
Orbiting low over Earth, the antennae will be able to decode faint radio signals from tiny solar-powered tracking tags, light enough for migrating songbirds to carry safely. If all goes well, within two years as many as 20,000 animals may be tagged—and further into the future hundreds of thousands more, as the tags become light enough to be carried even by large flying insects such as locusts.
Known as ICARUS (International Co-operation for Animal Research Using Space), the ambitious project is being led by Dr. Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, Germany. Dr. Wikelski sees ICARUS as a “transformational point” where “animals teach us about our world”. Billions of animals, both huge and tiny, are constantly on the move, responding to the environment they experience through their many senses.
If ICARUS can follow their behaviour, they may provide researchers with a living world wide web of information about the state of the planet. And people will gain a much deeper appreciation of their lives too.
Dr. Wikelski has spent a decade trying to persuade scientists that a giant leap to a space-based global tracking platform could be possible. Thanks to backing from the German and Russian space agencies, he will have a chance to prove his vision in 2017. A new data centre in Germany will make it easy for biologists to log in to a global collaboration.
Adding more, ICARUS could help scientist answer bigger questions on global environment. For example, in the past 30 years, at least 421m songbirds have disappeared from Europe. ICARUS can help us understand several similar questions related to the environment.