German Aerospace Center

Support from Antarctica for satellite missions

The ERS satellites have long been out of operations. Now, the O’Higgins Antarctic station receives data from the German Earth observation satellites TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X, which also use radar to scan the Earth’s surface. They gather important data on the ice cover of the polar regions, as well as other information. The actual goal of the German satellite mission TanDEM-X was to generate a three-dimensional model of the entire Earth’s surface with consistent quality and unprecedented precision. To this end, the two almost identical radar satellites orbit the Earth in close formation at a height of around 514 kilometres. Just a few hundred metres apart, they record a stereoscopic view of the terrain simultaneously from different angles. This method has also produced a highly accurate terrain model of Antarctica. With regard to the exploration of Antarctica, the academic significance of the DLR data lies chiefly in the long period they cover, spanning 30 years. They therefore provide crucial information on changes in the ice from a period in which climate change has significantly worsened. The satellites can now store much more data than they used to. However, data volumes are now so large that several receiving stations around the world are still required to receive the data from a satellite as it flies past. GARS O’Higgins will therefore be needed to do its job for many years to come.

In addition, the German Aerospace Center cooperates with the Alfred-Wegener-Institut für Polar- und Meeresforschung (AWI). Between 2017 and 2019, the Center tested a greenhouse of the future at Neumayer Station III. There, plants are cultivated without soil and receive a computer-controlled spraying with a compound of water and nutrients. The project, which bears the name EDEN-ISS, is designed to identify new ways of cultivating crop plants even in regions with a hostile climate. A greenhouse of this kind could also make provision of fresh vegetables possible during space missions.