Today, 6 June 2018 at 13:12 CEST, German astronaut Alexander Gerst embarked on his second voyage to the International Space Station (ISS). Lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on board a Soyuz rocket, the ESA astronaut is joined by Roskosmos cosmonaut and commander Sergej Prokopjew and NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor.
His six month sojourn on the ISS is scheduled to begin this Friday, 8 June 2018. Once on board, Gerst will begin his “Horizons” mission, during which time he will also take on the role of ISS commander - the first German and only the second European to ever do so. One of several mission components is the ICARUS project (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) of the University of Konstanz and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell. The ICARUS antenna, which was delivered to the ISS this past February, is scheduled to be attached to the space station’s exterior during a spacewalk this August.
Once operational, the ICARUS space module will make it possible for researchers from the Collective Behaviour research initiative at the University of Konstanz to track the exact global migration paths of animals (e.g. migratory birds, bats, marine turtles) that have been outfitted with transmitters. The antenna will collect animal movement data, which will in turn be transmitted by the ISS to the freely accessible "Movebank" databank that is used by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology to monitor animal movement. Furthermore, researchers will also be able to collect environmental data (e.g. wind strength and direction as well as the distribution of virus strains) from the animals' surroundings. ICARUS will thus not only enhance our knowledge about the interplay between animal migration and the global ecosystem, but it will also help us to potentially predict natural disasters.