Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Three-dimensional imaging satellite TanDEM-X ready for routine operations in 2011

Space Mart: On 14 December 2010, TanDEM-X passed another important milestone: the radar mission's test phase has concluded in less than six months according to plan, paving the way for routine operations - the collection of elevation data - in 2011. The TanDEM-X mission was developed by the German Aerospace Center in collaboration with Astrium, and is operated from DLR Oberpfaffenhofen. The objective of the mission is to create a highly accurate three-dimensional elevation model of Earth's entire surface.

Immediately after it was launched to its 514-kilometre high orbit on 21 June 2010, the satellite was operating nominally, and sent back its first high resolution images after just three and a half days. TanDEM-X was thoroughly tested and calibrated over the following months.

This included the first close formation flight with TerraSAR-X, launched in 2007, during which the two radar satellites flew at a distance of just a few hundred metres from each other. This formation flight made it possible to take simultaneous images of Earth's surface from two different points of view - crucial to the three-dimensional mapping of the entire globe.

"The next step towards our global three-dimensional map was commissioning the control and processing chains and confirming the predicted quality of the first digital three-dimensional models," says Dr. Manfred Zink, TanDEM-X Project Manager for the ground segment at DLR. Completion of this phase means that now nothing stands in the way of full operation in early 2011….

TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X satellites orbiting together, image from Astrium GMBH

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