Project Icarus cannot start


Another postponement, this time indefinitely: The animal observation project Icarus must continue to wait. This time a unique computer is to blame.

Once again, the launch of the Icarus space-based observation system planned for today has been postponed. This time the fans of the Icarus on-board computer, which was flown to the International Space Station in October 2017, apparently did not work.

The on-board computer was tested in January 2018 and, according to Tagesspiegel information, functioned smoothly. Since then, however, this computer has no longer been in operation. The on-board computer, which was developed during five years of work at Lake Constance and is only available once, has three fans for cooling. It is not yet clear why the cooling system does not work and why the computer was shut down again according to Icarus project manager Martin Wikelski of the Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Biology in Constance.

Now it depends on how fast the cosmonauts, who are usually already scheduled for weeks, take care of the on-board computer. But cosmonauts of the ISS are needed to solve the problems, said Wolfgang Pitz of the space company SpaceTech from Immenstaad on Lake Constance. The company has a stake in Icarus and developed and built the antenna for the project, among other things. However, there is a tight schedule for the cosmonauts on the space station. “We need to see when they can accommodate it.”

There can be many reasons for it not working – for example it could be dust, for example a sensor could be broken. According to Tagesspiegel information, it is not planned to replace the fans and it would probably not be possible for the cosmonauts to do so without further ado. When a new attempt is possible is therefore not clear.

Mini transmitter, long range

The start of the project had already been postponed several times, most recently on Tuesday of this week.

With the space-based observation system Icarus, scientists around Wikelski want to find out more about the life of animals on Earth. The researchers are equipping various animal species with mini transmitters that send their measurement data to the antenna on the ISS. Over the next few years, several tens of thousands of animals are to be sent. Among other things, the scientists will focus on the routes on which the animals migrate, the conditions under which they live and how they can best be protected.

At first, the delay was disappointing, Wikelski said on Wednesday. “But I am still in a positive mood. The computer itself works. There are problems, but we know what they are – and there is a plan to fix them.”

Icarus (International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space) also involves the Russian space agency Roskosmos and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). After completion of a test phase, Icarus is expected to be fully available for scientists in autumn or winter 2019. (with dpa)


About Author

Mette Frederiksen is a The Washington Newsday correspondent. With her coverage of general science, NASA and the interface between technology and society, Frederiksen has been in the Science Desk's Technology Beat since joining Washington Newsday in 2018.

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