Germany's second Earth observation satellite, TanDEM-X, was launched successfully on 21 June 2010 at 04:14 Central European Summer Time (CEST, at 08:14 local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Atop a Russian Dnepr rocket, the satellite, weighing more than 1.3 tons and five metres in length, started its journey into orbit. At 4.45 CEST first signal was received via Troll ground station in the Antarctic.
The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) manages TanDEM-X (TerraSAR-X add-on for Digital Elevation Measurement) via its ground segment, and is responsible for mission operations and for generating and utilising the scientific data. "TanDEM-X is a key German project and will provide us with a homogeneous 3D elevation model of the Earth which will be an indispensable aid for a great many scientific and commercial avenues of enquiry," said DLR Chairman Prof. Dr Johann-Dietrich Wörner at the launch event held in the German Space Operations Center (GSOC) at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen. "This mission demonstrates Germany's expertise in satellite-based radar technology and is, in particular, the outcome of a consistent focus in the national space programme. Also, TanDEM-X demonstrates a successful public-private partnership," stressed Prof. Wörner.
Digital elevation models can be used in a huge range of applications. Geoscientific disciplines such as hydrology, geology and oceanography require precise and up-to-date information on the properties of the Earth's surface. Digital elevation models can help to make the exploitation of natural resources more efficient and can also help to optimise relief planning in the wake of natural disasters, as well as security deployments. Digital maps are also essential to reliable navigation: their precision needs to keep pace with the increasingly stringent requirements that govern global positioning.