Using tiny sensors and equipment aboard the space station, a project called ICARUS seeks to revolutionize animal tracking.
International Space Station, orbiting some 240 miles above the planet, is about to join the effort to monitor the world’s wildlife — and to revolutionize the science of animal tracking.
A large antenna and other equipment aboard the orbiting outpost, installed by spacewalking Russian astronauts in 2018, are being tested and will become fully operational this summer. The system will relay a much wider range of data than previous tracking technologies, logging not just an animal’s location but also its physiology and environment. This will assist scientists, conservationists and others whose work requires close monitoring of wildlife on the move, and provide much more detailed information on the health of the world’s ecosystems.
The new approach, known as ICARUS — short for International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space — will also be able to track animals across far larger areas than other technologies. At the same time, ICARUS has shrunk the size of the transmitters that the animals wear and made them far cheaper to boot.
These changes will allow researchers to track flocks of birds as they migrate over long distances, for instance, instead of monitoring only one or two birds at a time, as well as far smaller creatures, including insects. And, as climate change and habitat destruction roil the planet, ICARUS will allow biologists and wildlife managers to quickly respond to changes in where and when species migrate.
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