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Tortoise, Birds, mammals satelital tracking through ARGOS system

biology; expert.

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Argos was created in 1978, as a satellite network for tracking and monitoring environmental data from transmitters situated in fixed or mobile platforms spread through the globe: tortoises, birds, mammals,  trucks, floats, balloons...  Currently, over 4200  animals are being tracked trough ARGOS.
This system has an unique feature: it can geographically locate data source. Basing on the Doppler shift, it can determine the position of each data received with an horizontal accuracy of 20cm, and an altitude accuracy sion of 10 cm.

Along this article, we are going to explain basic concepts of the ARGOS system, and how to access the ARGOS data.




1.- Introduction to Argos Project

To access ARGOS services, we only need to install a transmitter on the item we want to monitor: ship, balloon, truck, animal.... Afterwards, we have to contract the tracking service and we will receive the data through email, fax, mail, Internet, etc. Currently, there are 3 companies that provide this service.
Las empresas que nos dan acceso al sistema Argos, disponen de software realizados por ellos que nos facilitan la lectura y análisis de los reltados.

Argos uses: Argos infrastructure can be used for many applications:


        • Biology. Birds, Mammals, reptiles tracking.
        • Protecting biodiversity
        • Ocean
        • Weather
        • Monitoring contamination levels.
        • Managing and protecting marine resources.
        • Monitoring moves of dangerous materials
        • Tracking gas pipelines in order to identify gas scapes or failures.
        • Monitoring oil dumps.

The magnitude of the system is great, given that it serves simultaneously a lot of different applications. In order to use ARGOS we will have to pass through a long procedure.

Argos was developed under a MOU - Memorandum of understanding, between the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES,France) and el National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, USA) y el National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, USA).

Argos and environment. Argos provides information to environmental investigation and biodiversity defense organizations. Currently, it is used by more than 300 organizations and more than fifty countries.

ARGOS service access providers:  Three companies provide argos service access: CLS/Argos, Toulouse,(Francia) y Service Argos Inc. y North American CLS, both in the states.

2.- Argos components. Accessing argos service.

  In order to use Argos System, you don't need to have thourough skills of the Argos infrastructure, As to drive a car, you don't need to know how the engine works. In this section, we are going to learn a little about the components, in order to evaluate the possibilities Argos brings to you.
The animal tracking cost is incalculable,  due to the human resources ARGOS need, and the equipment. Nevertheless, governements bear for part of the costs. We have only to pay for the transmissors and the Argos annual fee.

Argos system can be divided into 6 parts. If you only want to scribe to get tracking data, you only need to lnow about Service Provider and Transmitter manufacturer.

Parts of Argos System:

 Satelital tracking system

1.-  Platforms, transmitters or PPT'S:
Transmitters are programmed to send signals to satellites at periodic intervals. This component are called PPTS o "transmission terminals".
They transmit signals periodically, even when there is no satellite receiving the signal. Mesasges are broadcasted in packages from 23 to 256 bits in bursts every 360 to 960ms. It uses  frequence of  401.650 MHz ± 30 kHz.
A platform can have more than 1 sensor. The information is stored in the platform before it's transmission to the satellite.

In order to choose a transmitter, we have to analyze our needs. Two factors can be chosen: tipo of sensor, and the sensor protection box. The appropriate transmitter to track a ship, may not be good to track a mammal or a sea turtle.

We don't need to have deep knowledge in electronics o telecommunications. To use Argos, we only need to contact to an Argos authorizated manufacturer, and they will advise us to use a certain transmitter or other.

  2.- Polar orbiting satellites collect data

Polar orbiting satellites flying at an orbit of 850 km above the earth pick up the signals and store them on-board and relay them in real-time back to earth.

Each satellite receives signall from all transmitters within an 5000 km diameter footprint. Satellites are on a heliosynchronous orbit. In 24 hours, a satellite passes over the pole 14 times, and through the Ecuator line 6-7 times. Each area has 2 satellites receiving its signals. Every signal is received by a satellite every 10 minutes. As there is an increasing number of satellites carrying an Argos system, there are areas where data is collected on a real time basis.

3.-  Receiving stations

Receiving stations have big parabolic parabolic antenna spread through earth rface. These are in charge of receiving data from satelites.

The next picture, illustrates a simplified diagram that may help to understand the ARGOS system.


4.- Global and regional Processing centers.

Receiving Stations are conected to processing centers. These, are in charge of collecting data, processing and locating items. There are two types of Processing centers: global (GPC) and regional (RPC).

Global processing centers (GPC):

Currently, there are two GPC's: France and United States. Both centers work in reduntant operation. They store the same information. Plus, buth centers work as a regional center for their coberage area.

Global processing centers objectives are:

  • Collecting messages from receiving stations, directly or from Regional Processing centers.

  • Check message quality control and coherence (reception level, time-tagging, transmitter identification number, sensor message lengths and received frequency value).

  • Storage of messages

  • Message classification by platform and by chronological order;

  • Locate transmitters using Doppler shift.

  • Send data to users by Internet, Fax, "Automatic Distribution Service" (ADS), etc.

Regional processing centers. (RPC)

This centers are connected to receiving stations. They receive data from their coberage area in real time.

Regional processing centers objectives are:

  • Collect area messages

  • Transmit messages to Global Processing centers

  • Deliver Data to users located in their area.

Argos has 5 processing centres interconnected (Red centers) and 42 receiving stations all over the world that provide: real time service location, data collection and access to processed data.

5 Service providers

Service providers are in charge of service access.
They send final data to user by ADS (automatic distribution services). Final User can choose different ways to get data: ftp, email. Fax, CD, tapes, etc...
Moreover, user can choose to get data through GTS (Global Telecommunications System), global network dedicated to share meteorological data.
6.-  Final users

Currently, final users are: organisms, companies, universities... They process ARGOS data for different uses: ship tracking, birds, mammal, tortoises tracking...

Click here to see ARGOS users list



4 How to contract ARGOS Service


4 How to contract ARGOS Service.


A) Project definition

The first step, is to get a project definition. It's doesn't have to be very detailed, but it's necessary to set this items:

  1. What data has to be collected?

  2. Where is going to be installed the transmitter?

  3. What kind of incidents may damage the transmitter (rain, water, knocks...)?

  4. How long should transmitters work?

  5. How is the project going to be defrayed?

  6. Who is going to collect project data?

  7. Who are we going to share data with?

  8. Does this project have scientifical value?

B) Get updated information

Technology changes. We recommend you to read ARGOS user's manual.

Argos system, quick starting guide.

Argos system, user's guide

We recommend you, as well, to contact with other users of ARGOS system, in order to learn from their experience.

Some organizations as seaTurtle are currently using ARGOS System. Here there are some links to their documentation:


www.seaturtle.org. How to attach a transmitter to a hard sea turtle.

www.seaturtle.org. Real sea turtle tracking data


C) Choose PPT manufacturer and PPT model.

We recommend to contact to some manufacturers, tell them our needs, so that they can tell us the products they have that match our needs, prizes, etc.

At the end of this step, we should have a manufacturer selected, as well as the data we want to collect. Manufacturer should give us technical report with all the information asked in the Technical Information Form that ARGOS requests. Some manufacturers give this form filled in.

D) Estimate costs.

Contract basic costs, and tracking an animal for a year, costs over 5000€. This includes PTT's development and data collection from a service provider.

Other costs, are:

  • Computers to get data,

  • Internet connection.

  • office stationery

  • Trip costs

  • meals

  • Relt publishing cost

  • Human resources cost.

We recommend to add to the project estimation 15% of it value for unexpected events.

Educational entities, may have some discounts.

E) Start the project

From now on, the project financing must be set, as we we will have to pay the costs and fees to use ARGOS system.

Formalizing ARGOS system application

E-1) Argos System Use Agreement must be sent to CLS-ARGOS, as well as Argos Technical Information Form where the following aspects are specified:

  • Complete Identification of the applicant.

  • Basic features of the tracking

  • Brief description of the project

  • Technical Information Form, with tracking technical features description, and transmitter description.

  • Program / Agenda description

  • Type of service that we need from ARGOs.

  • PTT's characteristics.

ARGOS commission, then, evaluate the project. Commission member check that the program is related to the environmental scope of ARGOS. Commission will send a report with the conclusions.

In case CLS-ARGOS accept the project, CLS-ARGOS will send to the commission the Argos Program Review. This Review contains Unique identification numbers for program, transmitters, as well as user and passwords to conlt the tracking data. CLS-ARGOS will ask you to fill in a form to describe the service requested from Argos, data processing and a product order.

ARGOS Program review is sent to the transmitter manufacturer, so that it can make PTT's with the specifications.


5.- Testing period

Once PTT's is made, and before setting it to the animal, we strongly recommend to test it. We ggest to go on a trip with it and collect the ARGOS processed data. This way, we can see if the system is working correctly, as we know what route the transmitter has done. Not only can we check the transmitter, but also de data process, user accounts and passwords, etc.

We will need a model of the animal, to design and check the platform that is going to hold the transmitter. In this model, we should check:

  • How to hold the animal, with out damaging it.

  • How to cleanse the area where we are setting the transmitter.

  • Time needed to fix the transmitters

  • Time Epoxy can be handled before it hardens.

  • How are we going to check if PTT's is strong enough.


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