Other | 06. January 2011 | posted by Jan Wörner | 7 Comments

Wikileaks and the repercussions for DLR

The release of secret US documents has caused excitement in recent weeks, both in the news media and among the general public. The latest 'revelations' by Wikileaks concern DLR activities in the space field. Two things must happen now: the 'information' must be considered critically and the repercussions have to be thought about in detail.

Early in January, several articles in the news reported about alleged German-American spy satellites and also gave the impression of a very strained relationship between France and Germany in the field of space activities.

DLR is not planning a spy satellite

The project concept for a national optical satellite, HiROS, is based on the idea of adding optical capability to complement the successful twin radar satellites, TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X. DLR has been discussing a project proposal for a high-resolution optical satellite for about two years. The possible applications of the satellite include the provision of high-resolution optical data for public use, such as in crisis management during natural disasters, and for scientific use. HiROS is neither a spy satellite, nor is it a secret project. Technical data about HiROS has been available on the web since 2009.

DLR is convinced of the value of international cooperation

France is an important and dependable partner for Germany; this applies particularly to DLR's aeronautics and spaceflight activities. In aeronautics research, we have a long-term partnership with our sister organisation ONERA, particularly in the areas of helicopters and wind tunnel use. In space, DLR's partner is the French space agency CNES, with much in common between us. In addition to regular contacts through ESA, it is the bilateral relationship between the two institutions and my now long-standing personal friendship with Yannick d'Escatha, the President of CNES, which are the basis for close cooperation. This cooperation has recently led, among other things, to the joint satellite project Merlin, for the study of methane in the atmosphere. Of course, occasionally, on specific topics, we have different positions, different industrial policies and competition between the two nations. The latter point should not lead to the erroneous conclusion that Germany regards France as an adversary. The very fact that we are accustomed to debating various topics and ultimately arriving at a consensus is a testament to the quality and strength of our partnership.


For me personally, the whole affair shows that cooperation with other countries must be implemented dedicatedly and transparently. This includes activities in ESA and in the EU. I hope that the growing institutional and personal relations now have the necessary strength to enable us to proceed with the next step confidently.

At the same time, for me, this is a reminder to follow up on some calls I have been making repeatedly during the past four years, with regard to the implementation of unity in decision-making, accountability, legitimacy, supervision and participation, also beyond the borders of DLR.


About the author

The ‘Jan Wörner’ blog was written by Johann-Dietrich ‘Jan’ Wörner during his time as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). Jan Wörner wrote all the posts himself and then sent them to DLR Corporate Communications for editing, picture research and online publication. to authorpage


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Peter Clissold
06. January 2011 at 15:01

The idea that HiROS is a ‘spy satellite’ is not credible. HiROS will offer a ground sample distance (GSD) of 50 centimetres. This is the lower limit for civilian space imaging enforced by the US government through ITAR and followed by pretty much every other country with the expertise to do better. (They don’t have much choice if their satellites incorporate US-made components such as radiation-hardened semiconductors.) Data at this resolution (downsampled from a resolution of 43 centimetres) are already commercially available from GeoEye.

‘Real’ spy satellites such as ‘Advanced Crystal’ / KH12 – deployed in the previous decade – are thought to have mirrors in excess of three metres across, which give them a GSD around five times better (at perigee) than HiROS. Current US National Reconnaissance Office satellites are rumoured to have GSDs of the order of a few centimetres.

Disclosure: The author of this comment is employed by a contractor to DLR.

Michael Khan
10. January 2011 at 15:05

The capabilities of HiROS have been widely reported in freely accessible media, such as this:


I do not see that they differ from those of commercial Earth observatoin satellites that have been active for years, such as WorldView-1 and -2 and GeoEye 1. Not just the performance and capabilities, also the range of applications appears very simlar.


If those commercial satellites aren't termed as secret spy satellites, why should HiROS be? And conversely, if those satellites perform commercially viable and useful services, why should Germany refrain from doing the same?

These recent media reports appear to be not only unbalanced, but also singularly uninformed.

RE Michael Khan
12. January 2011 at 13:55

Uninformed are only the 2 previous comments.
Everybody got now to possibility to read the documents on which the press releases bases themselfes. I did not believe it neither until i read the around 5 reports about this project and discovered who is/was involved with which interesst.
Sadly the Blog seems to censor any direct link and i guess they will censor this post as well, but the only thing to which this leads is to harm DLRs creditability.

Marco Trovatello, DLR Communications Dept.
12. January 2011 at 14:19

Dear anonymous commentator "RE Michael Khan" (not to be confused with the real Michael Khan

at DLR Blogs, we do neither censor direct links nor do we censor blog posts. Truth is that a) our system or respectively the software we use for it does not actively support HTML-code being used in comments and b) within our blog rules (see http://www.dlr.de/blogs/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-5897/10180_read-21862/
- btw here I used the respective HTML code and see, there's a link) we reserve the right to NOT publish and delete comments not complying with these rules, which again comply with the basic rules of (N)Etiquette.

For further reading and following an objective and fair discussion I recommend http://www.kosmologs.de/kosmo/blog/go-for-launch/allgemein/2011-01-10/der-hochgeheime-hiros-satellit-enth-llt-durch-wikileaks.

12. January 2011 at 15:40

Dear Mr. Trovatello, thank you for your feedback. I did not see any violations of your blog rules in my first post, neither it used HTML nor offensive language etc.. it was just criticiing and pointing the source of all this, to have people get their own impressions about. Thats why i called it "censor". However as it seems you are interessted in clarifications and discussions i also invite you to take part at this discussion you pointed out.

Henning Krause (DLR Communications Dept.)
12. January 2011 at 17:35

Dear Peter (12.01.2011), on 6 January we received an anonymous comment in this blog post that contained links to the Aftenposten web page as well as extensive quotations of those web ressources. The links themselves didn't violate our blog rules. However the quotations made statements about various people refered to by name, which could violate their rights. This fact is at odds with our blog rules, see here. That's simply why that comment couldn't be approved. Of course, you are welcome to post comments here that meet the rules.