Articles from "2015"

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Space | 12. November 2015

Anniversary of Philae comet landing – expecting the unexpected

Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

By Karin Ranero Celius

One year ago today, the Philae lander touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This was no easy task, of course. With the Rosetta mission, it was demonstrated that it was not only possible to travel to a comet more than 500 million kilometres from Earth, but also to follow it in its orbit around the Sun and land on it. read more

Energy | 13. October 2015 | posted by Dorothee Bürkle

Sunshine over the Kalahari

Die Sonne über der Kalahari
Credit: Abengoa
Solar power station in South Africa. Khi Solar One in the Northern Cape region – designed for a capacity of 50 megawatts – will soon be connected to the grid. 

The Sun almost always shines in the Kalahari, which extends across the Northern Cape region in South Africa. The area enjoys 4000 sunlight hours and an average solar irradiance of up to 2800 kilowatt-hours per square metre per year; by comparison, Spain reaches no more than 2300. Therefore, it follows that the currently untapped potential for solar power is immense.

South Africa's main source of electricity is coal (90 percent). Could solar power stations bring about change? Experts in science, industry and politics will discuss this exact question at the SolarPACES Conference. They will also pool their opinions on innovation regarding solar thermal power plants, storage technologies and the use of solar energy to produce fuels. read more

Space | 18. September 2015 | 3 Comments

Philae calling ...


By Cinzia Fantinati and Koen Geurts

On 9 July, the team at the DLR Lander Control Center made contact with Philae for the last time. Towards the end of October, Rosetta will come closer and attempts to communicate will resume. read more

Space | 12. August 2015 | posted by Fabian Walker

Video – Pieces of the Puzzle – Philae on Comet 67P

Kometenlandung (#CometLanding) von Philae am 12. November 2014
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Philae's landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (#CometLanding) on 12 November 2014 was a historic moment – the first time in the history of space exploration that a spacecraft landed on a comet. Millions of people across the world followed the Rosetta mission via the Internet. read more

Aeronautics | 02. June 2015

ARCTIC15 - Airborne SAR acquisitions up and running

Credit: DLR / Martin Keller (CC-BY 3.0)
A first SAR data quicklook of the Kangerlussuaq calibration test site. The colours represent the intensity in different polarisations (Red: VV, Green: HV, Blue: HH). The airport is clearly visible in black. From the centre of the image, the fjord extents in a south-west direction, where skidoo-tracks to the next village can be seen.

Three calibration flights, 10 flights to test sites, and over 100 radar data sets resulting in 4.8 Terabyte of SAR data. These are the numbers behind the work our F-SAR team conducted within the last two weeks – including even the alteration from the X-C-S-L to the P-band antenna configuration and fortunately only one bad weather day.

DLR's Do-228 airplane, with the F-SAR system on board arrived on Friday, 24 May, in Kangerlussuaq. On the following Monday, the team consisting of two pilots, one flight engineer and two radar operators took off for the first calibration flight. In the first two weeks, the antenna configuration for the X-, C-, S- and L-band frequencies was installed on the plane. This range of different frequencies will allow us to compare radar acquisitions with different penetration depths into the snow and ice. The team acquired SAR data over all the test sites where we had installed corner reflectors. Additionally, the area around the airport and town of Kangerlussuaq is overflown for calibration purposes and is well equipped with seven reflectors. It seems like the locals got used to these strange metallic artefacts in their town pretty fast.

Credit: DLR / Ralf Horn (CC-BY 3.0)
DLR's Do-228 with the F-SAR radar system on board after refuelling at the airport of Ilulissat, Greenland. The X-C-S-L antenna mount is visible on the rear of the plane.

Eventually, during the first days after the calibration flight, we had to face exactly those smaller and bigger problems – those that one must always expect during a campaign, as mentioned in the previous post. But the F-SAR team proved their problem-solving skills and campaign experience. From non-matching connections of the local oxygen supply to unstable electronic parts, they were able to fix everything without causing any delay to the campaign plan. I have to admit that I was already worried about losing one test site due to the technical difficulties, but the team was able to acquire almost all the data we had planned for. For now, we can say that the X-C-S-L phase was successful, giving us plenty of scientific data.

Credit: DLR / Georg Fischer (CC-BY 3.0)
The F-SAR team preparing to remove the X-C-S-L antenna from the side of the Do-228 airplane.

The change to the P-band antenna configuration was completed successfully. The P-band wavelength is the longest we will use during this campaign and penetrates several tens of metres into the ice. We are already curious about what kind of subsurface features we will see in the data.

Today, while I'm writing, the F-SAR team is flying over the K-transect to conduct the first P-band acquisitions. Currently, we are all very optimistic about the upcoming part of the campaign.

Aeronautics | 29. May 2015

WindVal: Petta reddast

Betanken der Falcon vor dem Start
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
Falcon ready for the jet stream flight, in the background is the NASA DC-8

In Iceland you hear one phrase very often: 'petta reddast', which can be translated as "it will all work out okay". With that in mind, we started planning the flight to have a closer look at strong changes in the horizontal and vertical gradients of the wind speeds in the atmosphere, which is one of the key objectives of the ADM-Aeolus WindVal campaign.

When operating from Iceland, the ideal target region for such an endeavour is in or near a jet stream (fast flowing current in the atmosphere with a meandering shape) over the North Atlantic that is within range of the aircraft. The situation on Friday 15 May 2015 offered a great opportunity to address this aim and coordinate with the NASA DC-8 to observe strong jet stream winds. We have total of four wind lidar systems on the two aircraft, the DC-8 and DLR’s Falcon. read more

Aeronautics | 21. May 2015

ARCTIC15 Field Campaign

Forschungskampagne in Grönland
Credit: Silvan Leinss
The other, more beautiful side of field work. -22 degrees Celsius without wind on a sunny day can feel quite warm and comfortable. Perfect working conditions!

ARCTIC15 is a campaign promoted by the Microwaves and Radar Institute of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), carried out in cooperation with ETH Zurich and with the support of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI). It takes place in Greenland from mid-April to the end of May 2015 with the objective of collecting polarimetric-interferometric SAR data at different frequencies (X-, C-, S-, L- and P-band) over different facies of the ice sheet. The measurements are performed using DLR's airborne F-SAR sensor. In total, the activities involve five test sites and include the collection of ground measurements, like ground penetrating radar (GPR) profiles and snow and firn stratigraphy, as well as the installation of GPS stations and corner reflectors for the calibration of the SAR acquisitions. read more

Space | 17. April 2015 | posted by Heinz-Theo Hammes

SOFIA flight 200

Credit: DLR (CC-By 3.0)
Scientific observations using the FIFI-LS instrument were performed during SOFIA flight 200

I was given the opportunity to fly as a passenger on SOFIA'S 200th flight during the night of 12 to 13 March 2015. It was also the second flight of the new observation campaign featuring the German-developed Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer (FIFI-LS), an astronomical instrument developed by the University of Stuttgart. I have to say, though, that my interest was not so much the science; rather, I wanted to experience what SOFIA 'felt' like after undergoing a lengthy refurbishment at Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. The overhaul had included an almost complete replacement of the air conditioning and cabin panelling. During the mission briefing, the meteorologists mentioned a possibility of turbulence in the northern section of the flight route. That's what I had been hoping for. After all, I wanted to see the telescope in action. Until then, I had only heard that the telescope remains firmly focused on its target – regardless of how 'shaky' a flight might be. The flight schedule looked interesting, with turning points over Seattle and San Francisco in the north, and Albuquerque, the Texas Panhandle and Las Vegas in the south. read more

Aeronautics | 26. March 2015 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

The tragedy of flight 4U9525

The crash of Germanwings flight 4U9525 has affected all of us over the last few days, leaving everyone shocked and saddened. The fact that, after a normal initial phase of its flight, the aircraft transitioned into a long descent before impacting on the French Alps initially led to wild speculation. The press repeatedly sought DLR's opinion, looking for statements. We declined any comments for reasons that are hopefully understandable, because we did not want to (and will not) contribute to the speculation.

The current assessment of what happened on board the Airbus A320 now points to deliberate action by the copilot. In this context, during a press conference, Lufthansa noted that DLR plays a role in pilot selection: "We have a lot of scope for examining the psychological suitability of pilots; the DLR tests are perhaps the leading process worldwide for this purpose." Media enquiries have turned from the technology to the people, and at the same time have multiplied.

It is true that the Department of Aviation and Space Psychology at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine carries out suitability selection of operational personnel such as pilots, air traffic controllers and astronauts for various clients.

This means that every applicant for the Lufthansa Flight Training School, for example, must undergo psychological testing prior to being hired. During this procedure, knowledge characteristics (for example, English and engineering), cognitive performance (for example, spatial awareness), psychomotor skills, multitasking and general personality traits (for example, leadership skills, cooperation with colleagues and the ability to work under pressure) are examined. These tests are compliant with both scientific standards and legal requirements.

To prepare pilots and controllers to face the situations they will encounter in their everyday working lives requires special efforts to be made in psychometric testing and training. In addition to processing information at a high level of abstraction, personality factors are becoming increasingly important during the probationary period of operational staff, as well as what are referred to as 'Non-Technical Skills'. These include decision-making and problem solving under high pressure, clear communication, and cooperative team management. In the design of new psychological procedures for aviation, there is an increasing use of computer-based technologies, with which the suitability assessment and training can be made even more precise and cost-effective.

In the target field 'Selection and Training', research findings are directly translated into practical applications. Continuous scientific research and development ensures the high quality of the work conducted at DLR and also ensures the adaptation to technological trends in aviation and the changing requirements for operational staff.

Certainly, such a procedure does not exclude all risks pertaining to an individual's negative development, especially as the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions is not a part of the psychological examinations conducted here at DLR.

Our and my personal concern over what has happened has surely increased due to recent public questions. Our thoughts are with the families, friends and colleagues of all passengers and crew members.

Space | 25. February 2015 | posted by Elke Heinemann

Could water molecules from Mars come to Earth?

Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
The HRSC camera on board the Mars Express acquired this image of the Martian horizon primarily because it provides a clear view of the atmospheric structure enveloping the planet. A clear separation between the lower, denser atmosphere and the stratosphere is visible.

The High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express orbiter has been delivering high-resolution images from the surface of Mars since January 2004 – in colour and 3-D. A monthly selection of these images is published on the dedicated page that covers the Mars Express mission. Quite often, we receive questions about these images and the geological peculiarities they reveal. Other questions are simply about Mars in general. In this blog post, Ulrich Köhler from the DLR Institute of Planetary Research provides an answer to a particularly interesting question. read more