The 1.3-tonne TanDEM-X , which stands for “TerraSAR-X add-on for Digital Elevation Measurement,” lifted off attached to a Russian Dnepr rocket at 8:14 am local time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It delivered its first signal to a ground station in the Antarctic some 30 minutes later, the DLR said in a statement.
The 3-D elevation model of the earth created by the “key German project” will be an "indispensable aid for a great many scientific and commercial avenues of enquiry," said DLR Chairman Dr. Johann-Dietrich Wörner at the launch event at the German Space Operations Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhofen.
The new spacecraft will fly in tandem with the TerraSAR-X satellite, in space since 2007, to survey the entire 150 million square kilometres of the earth's surface several times.
The twin satellites will send microwave pulses to the planet's surface, measuring height differences based on how long the signals take to bounce back.
"This will be the first time we will ever have had a globally standardised 3D digital elevation model of Earth, and with a measuring point density of 12 metres, it will be incredibly accurate," said Prof. Dr Alberto Moreira, Science Director of the TanDEM-X mission.
The model will be useful for a number of applications such as locating natural resources, relief planning in natural disasters and military deployments, in addition to improved navigation capabilities.
Processing for the expected 15 terabytes of data will take place at TanDEM-X stations in Sweden, Canada and the Antarctic over the course of four years, the DLR said. When completed it will be the world's first 3-D digital elevation model of the earth.