Flying stork
Flying stork

ICARUS – Tracking animals from space

ICARUS system on the International Space Station (ISS) commenced operations on 10 July 2019 – After completing an approximate four-month test phase, ICARUS will be ready for use by international researchers in the fall/winter of 2019 – “Live call” between Alexander Gerst and guests took place at Mainau Island on 9 October 2018 – The ICARUS antenna was attached to the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS) during a spacewalk on 15 August 2018 – On 24 July, the foundation stone for the Center for Visual Computing of Collectives (VCC) was laid

The animal observation system ICARUS on the International Space Station (ISS) commenced operations on 10 July 2019. A four-month test phase has now been initiated. ICARUS is expected to be ready for use by international researchers as early as the fall/winter of 2019.

The animal movement data collected by ICARUS are freely available in the existing Movebank database. The Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts (MWK) of Baden-Württemberg recently approved the “Movebank 2.0” project, which will further develop the database for the processing of more complex and larger quantities of data.


“Live call” with Alexander Gerst: The call took place within the context of the national competition for schoolchildren “Beschützer der Erde” that focuses on developing creative ideas for preserving the environment. It was scheduled for 12:00-16:00 on 9 October in the Palm House on Mainau Island.

ESA astronaut Reinhold Ewald and DLR mission manager Freya Scheffler-Kayser opened the event. The ICARUS project was then presented by Martin Wikelski, professor at the University of Konstanz, director of the Max-Planck-Institute for Ornithology (MPIO) and ICARUS director. The highlight of the afternoon was a 20-minute live call during which schoolchildren were able to ask Alexander Gerst about his life on the ISS, his career or the ICARUS project.

Following 16 years of preparation, the ICARUS antenna was successfully installed on the exterior of the International Space Station (ISS) on 15 August 2018. To find out what the space module means for the exploration of animal migrations and how it can benefit our understanding of animals and our ecosystems, click on the link under “Find out more about ICARUS...”


“International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space” (ICARUS) is a joint project of the University of Konstanz and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (Radolfzell). The space module will make it possible to track the global migration paths of animals (e.g. migratory birds, bats, marine turtles) that have been outfitted with transmitters. Furthermore, ICARUS will allow researchers to collect environmental data (e.g. wind strength and direction as well as the distribution of virus strains) from the surroundings of these animals. 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.

ICARUS is an integral part of the university’s research area Collective Behaviour. On 24 July 2018, the foundation stone for the “Center for Visual Computing of Collectives” (VCC) for the study of swarming and collective behaviour was laid at the University of Konstanz. The new top-level research centre will open in 2021 and provide space for seven specialist laboratories. Under its roof, 120 biologists and computer scientists will work together, collecting data about animal collectives and carrying out interdisciplinary research into collective animal behaviour.

Scientific director of ICARUS is Professor Martin Wikelski, one of the two directors of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell and honorary professor at the University of Konstanz. ICARUS is a joint project carried out by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Russian space agency Roskosmos and is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA).