Europe News: Traffic data via radar satellite – in all weather


The German radar satellite TerraSAR-X will monitor selected sections of motorway in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and California. 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, regardless of borders or the weather.

The technology is not limited to determining high traffic areas. It can also be used to calculate the average speed of autobahn traffic, enabling traffic information service providers to make better journey time forecasts – even in fog, heavy rain and darkness.

TerraSAR-X, the first German satellite to be manufactured under a public-private partnership between the German Aerospace Centre and Astrium in Friedrichshafen, provides radar data with a resolution of up to one metre, regardless of weather conditions, cloud cover and daylight.

In the context of the field campaign that began last week, 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 northwest of Los Angeles.

Traffic data capture represents an expansion of the capabilities of the radar satellite. To date, TerraSAR-X, which has been operational since June 2007, has sent more than 10, 000 high-quality radar images back to Earth. In order to analyse the large amounts of data, an additional mainframe computer was made available at the DFD field station at Neustrelitz, near Berlin, in January 2008.

The surveying, and the preparation of the data for the emergency services are just two further examples of potential varied uses of the satellite data, which is already being used by more than 200 scientists worldwide.

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