Satellite prepares for 3D scan of the entire Earth’s surface

A new Earth observation satellite launched only a week ago has already delivered its first images.

The TanDEM-X satellite is to produce the most accurate 3D map ever of the Earth, surveying it from a height of 500km over a three-year period. Working with a twin satellite, TerraSAR-X, it should start sending back 3D images within six months.

The team started receiving the radar pictures just three and a half days after the launch.”We have broken the world record that we set with TerraSAR-X,” says project leader Manfred Zink from the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

A picture of Moscow shows Sheremetyevo Airport, about 30 kilometres northwest of the city centre. The two runways are clearly visible. Other images show reservoirs, fields and a moving train in Ukraine, and waves in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar.

With the end of the launch and early orbit phase this weekend, the TanDEM-X team begins the first part of the commissioning phase, during which the satellite is put through its paces.

“It takes about three months to prepare it for operational use,” says Michael Bartusch, TanDEM-X project manager at the DLR Space Agency in Bonn.

By the end of July, the two satellites will be brought within 20km of one another, and in October, will be brought together to fly in formation just 200m apart and record data as a combined ‘pair of eyes’, says Bartusch. “Then we will begin with measurements of the entire Earth and the generation of the elevation model.”

The first official three-dimensional image acquisition by the twin satellites will start in January next year.