Photo: DTU

Danish satellite to track the routes of migratory birds

Wednesday 18 Jun 14

Contact

René Fléron
Project Manager
DTU Space
+4545 25 37 93

About the satellite and the transmitters

The microsatellite weighs 1.07 kg and measures 100 x 100 x 113.5 mm3. It has been named DTUsat-2 and has a life expectancy of 1.5 years.

The bird transmitter weighs 4.6 g and measures 10 x 10 x 30 mm3 and has a 15 cm long antenna. It contains a GPS receiver, a computer and a radio transmitter with antenna. It is powered by a highly efficient solar cell and a battery which is charged when bird is out in daylight.

A small satellite developed in partnership between the University of Copenhagen and DTU will be listening to radio signals from migratory birds and other animals moving over long distances. More than 90 DTU students have contributed to the satellite and the transmitters carried by the birds on their journey.

Biologist have little knowledge about where birds fly on their long journeys, and how they navigate. However, on Thursday, 19 June at 9.11 pm, a custom-built microsatellite will be launched into space with a view to monitoring the birds’ secretive quest. A specially designed radio transmitter weighing a mere 4.6 g will be installed as a small backpack on the birds, primarily cuckoos, who will be providing data to the satellite about their flight routes.

The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between DTU Space and the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen. Kasper Thorup from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate about the project:

“The new satellite—developed by DTU Space—will provide groundbreaking precision down to a few metres on small birds’ characteristics and will, for example, reveal how the birds react to obstacles in the landscape such as mountain ranges and waters. The lightweight transmitters can, among other things, be used on cuckoos which are an ideal species to study as they are raised by other birds and do not learn a migration route from their parents. They fly on pure instinct and navigation skills, which is extremely fascinating.”

René Fléron, MSc in Engineering, has headed the development work at DTU Space where more than 90 students have contributed to the construction of the satellite and the transmitter:

"Creating such a small and sophisticated satellite was only possible because DTU is at the forefront of space technology, electronics, microtechnology and software."
René Fléron, DTU Space

“It is vital that Denmark has joined the technology development at this early stage as there is extensive international interest in providing these solutions. Creating such a small and sophisticated satellite was only possible because DTU is at the forefront of space technology, electronics, microtechnology and software.”

According to Kasper Thorup, it is a breakthrough within biological research that specially designed space equipment is used to follow migratory animals. So far, conventional equipment and transmitters have only been applicable on 40 per cent of the bird species, because they are too heavy for small birds.

In the long term, the objective of the project is to develop transmitters that weigh as little as 2 g, enabling us to monitor some of the longest migrating songbirds as well as other small organisms. The technology is followed with great interest by, among others, the European Space Agency which is planning to install an antenna on the International Space Station within a few years to be able to monitor small birds on a large scale.