German radar satellite generates precise traffic information

The German satellite is going to monitor selected sections of motorway in Europe and in the United States. The aim of this project is to develop a procedure for large-scale traffic data capture, independent of ground systems, that permits data relay to various traffic information providers.

In contrast to measurement procedures used to date, most of them stationary cameras, information gleaned by satellite can yield up-to-the-minute information, even from roads without sensors, whatever the weather, regardless of borders.

TerraSAR-X measures the traffic on the A6 Autobahn at a major junction near Walldorf, Germany. The traffic, imaged during a rush hour, is colour-coded on this image Calculating vehicle speed
The technology is not limited to discovering areas of high traffic density. Indeed, TerraSAR-X can operate in a new mapping mode – a radar imaging technique based on the Doppler effect – that enables it to detect moving objects and measure their speed. This capability is primarily used to determine the speed of ocean currents but also to record the speed of ships or motor vehicles. With the help of such information, traffic information service providers will be able to make better journey time forecasts � even in fog, heavy rain and darkness � thanks to this latest radar technology.

In the context of the field campaign started on 26 February 2008, the first stretches of motorway to be observed will be the A4 to the west of Dresden, and the area where Germany, Austria and Switzerland meet. Later, this will be extended to the Ruhr, the A5 and A8 at Karlsruhe and Interstate 5 in California, to the north-west of Los Angeles.

Traffic data capture represents an expansion of the capabilities of the radar satellite. TerraSAR-X, which has been operational since June 2007, has sent over 10 000 high-quality radar images back to Earth to date.

Public-private partnership
TerraSAR-X is the first German satellite to be manufactured under what is called a public-private partnership (PPP) between the German Aerospace Center and Astrium GmbH in Friedrichshafen. DLR is responsible for using TerraSAR-X data for scientific purposes. It is also responsible for planning and implementing the mission as well as controlling the satellite. Astrium built the satellite and shares the costs for developing and using it. Die Infoterra GmbH, a subsidiary company founded specifically for this purpose by Astrium, is responsible for marketing the data commercially.

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Author: EARSC

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