The International Space Station is helping to track animal movements in a bid to predict natural disasters before they happen.

Spacewalking cosmonauts set up an antenna for tracking birds on Earth and sent a series of tiny satellites flying from the International Space Station last month.

Russians Sergey Prokopyev and Oleg Artemyev spent several hours installing the antenna for a German-led animal-tracking project known as Icarus , short for International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space.

Jeremy Wang, chief technology officer with Canadian drone company The Sky Guys, says the scope of the research goes beyond forecasting natural disasters.

He told CTV’s Your Morning: “We’re looking at things like migration patterns and disease transmission, one of the really interesting areas that the Icarus cooperation has been looking at is volcanic activity and earthquakes.

“As part of that, they’ve noticed that groups of goats in Italy, Sicily specifically, actually display signs of physiological and social nervousness leading up to volcanic activity or leading up to an earthquake.”

Wang says, in that way, the goats can be a really useful indicator for impending natural disasters.

The space station is an ideal perch for the antenna, compared with a typical satellite, said project director Martin Wikelski of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany. That's because spacewalkers could fix something if necessary and the computer is better protected from space radiation, he noted.

The project will start out tracking blackbirds and turtle doves already outfitted with small GPS tags, then move on to other songbirds, fruit bats and bigger wildlife.

Wikelski said researchers have ear tags for big mammals like gazelle, jaguars, camels and elephants, as well as leg-band tags for larger birds such as storks. The tags are easy to wear and should not bother the animals, he said.

Icarus may even be able to track insects in the future, Wang says.

Wikelski, who watched the spacewalk from Russian Mission Control outside Moscow, said researchers can better understand animal behaviour through lifelong monitoring. Among the things to learn: where the animals migrate, and how they grow up and manage to survive.

"We also learn where, when and why they die," he explained in an email.

The space station is also home to three Americans and one German.

With files from The Associated Press