ICARUS: Antenna tracking animal movements from space goes live

By Ellen Daniel

ICARUS, a global system able to track the movements of thousands of animals, has been switched on.

The ICARUS antenna system has been attached to the International Space Station’s exterior since August 2018, and is capable of tracking animal migration around the world.

It 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), and will provide important insights into how groups of animals interact with the natural world.

“ICARUS will help us answer important questions about the animals on our planet: Which migratory routes do they follow? Under what conditions do they live? And how can we best protect them?”, explains project leader Professor Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour and honorary professor at the University of Konstanz.

How ICARUS tracks the world’s animals

ICARUS works by receiving signals sent by small transmitters attached to animals. From its position in space, the antenna is able to collect and consolidate data on animal movement, which can then be used by researchers to study migration routes and also investigate how these animals are interacting with the ecological environment.

Information on the health of the animals such as heart rate and also their environmental conditions such as weather data will also be collected.

This data will be freely available in the existing Movebank database and will also be available to the general public through a free “Animal Tracker” app.

To improve the processing of large amounts of data, the database is now being expanded to include improved metadata schemes and data analysis and visualisation tools.

Professor Iain Couzin believes that this information will be important for the study of animal behaviour:

“ICARUS opens up major opportunities for global tracking of animal collectives, and will make important advancements to our understanding of collective sensing and intelligence.”

This marks the beginning of a four-month test phase, during which systems are checked and technical issues are resolved, with ICARUS expected to begin full operations at the end of the year.

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