The DLR site at Oberpfaffenhofen
Together with the site at Cologne, the DLR site at Oberpfaffenhofen is one of Germany's largest research centres. Located near the A96 motorway between Munich and Lindau, the site is home to eight scientific institutes and currently employs approximately 1700 people. The research centre's main fields of activity include participating in space missions, climate research, research and development in the field of earth observation, developing navigation systems and advanced robotics development.
Robonaut to support humans in space
The DLR Robotics and Mechatronics Center (RMC) is one of the largest and most successful facilities of its kind in Europe. It is formed by the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics and the Institute of System Dynamics and Control in Oberpfaffenhofen together with the Institute for Optical Sensor Systems in Berlin. The software and hardware developments of the RMC have enabled leading German industrial robot manufacturers to significantly increase their competitiveness. Currently however, the main focus is on space: What may sound to the layperson like something from a science fiction story is already starting to become reality at DLR. In a few years, robots developed at Oberpfaffenhofen are to be sent into space to take on some of the astronauts' dangerous tasks. One project particularly under consideration is that of building a "robonaut" that could travel thousands of kilometres independently an thus reach and repair even remote satellites. DLR achieved its breakthrough in the field of robotics in 1993 on the D-2 shuttle mission. Scientists controlled the "Rotex" robot arm from Earth with such precision that they were able to catch a free-floating object with it. "We have demonstrated for the first time that many things can also be handled from the ground", says former Head of the Institute Professor Gerd Hirzinger. The institutes are also doing ground-breaking work on earth. For example, they are currently developing robot arm systems that will allow surgeons to perform complex operations with only a tiny incision. The most successful product the RMC has so far brought to market is the "space Mouse", which was originally developed for the "Rotex" robot arm. It is considered the most successful European computer peripheral and has sold over 100,000 units.
Telecommunications and TV, but also meteorology, cartography, environmental observation and monitoring, land use planning and security today all depend on the use of space technologies. The damage wrought by humans on the environment has been increasing worldwide over the last decades: Deforestation, soil degradation, water pollution, climate change and the greenhouse effect are problems that satellite-based Earth observation contributes significantly to recording and addressing. The work of the German Remote Sensing Data Centre (DFD) and the Remote Sensing Technology Institute (IMF) covers a wide range of applications in the fields of airborne and satellite-based Earth observation. Areas of application include land surface remote sensing, marine remote sensing and atmospheric remote sensing. The objectives of these scientific projects include developing algorithms and evaluation methods for various remote sensing data, and long-term archiving and provision of these data in the "National Remote Sensing Library of the Federal Republic of Germany".
The DLR site at Oberpfaffenhofen is also aiming high with regard to the European satellite navigation system Galileo. The civilian Galileo programme is intended to compete with the American GPS, which is under military control. 30 Galileo satellites are to orbit the Earth at an altitude of 24,000 kilometres and be fully available to the receiving stations on the ground. The satellites are operated and managed by the DLR GfR mbH at the Galileo Control Center (GCC) in Oberpfaffenhofen. The DLR-Institute of Communications and Navigation (KN) is also focusing on the "Galileo" project and several measuring campaigns were undertaken. In the field of satellite navigation the institute puts emphasis on safety-critical applications, which require a reliable positioning and timing information, and on positioning in urban canyons and indoors. In the field of high rate data communications between satellite and ground the Institute works on optical free-space transmission methods. The institute also develops and investigates new systems and methods for radio transmission and positioning. These are widely used in broadcasting multimedia contents as well as for internet connection of satellites, airplanes and remote areas.
Columbus module as most important European contribution to ISS
The Columbus module of the International Space Station (ISS) is Europe’s most significant contribution to the space station programme. The scientific experiments performed in the space station laboratory will yield a greater understanding of materials or behaviours of organic and inorganic substances at zero gravity. DLR German Space Operations Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhofen operates the Columbus Control Center. The Columbus team monitors and controls the module as well as the work performed on board.
New aircraft for atmospheric research
Floods, storms, greenhouse effect and damage to the ozone layer: Due to the environmental changes already becoming apparent in many places, the work of the scientists at the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics is attracting increasing public interest. Research is conducted at Oberpfaffenhofen into the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere, the troposphere and the stratosphere. Global and regional, dynamic, cloud physical and chemical processes are fundamental to aeronautics and space travel. Understanding the atmosphere is also a prerequisite for assessing how climate is affected by regional and global emissions from air and road travel worldwide. Among other things, scientists observe changes to ozone and water vapour in the stratosphere. For their computing models the researchers use data from environmental satellites and test results from the four DLR-owned research aircraft. The aircraft currently most in use is the Falcon stationed at the special airport in Oberpfaffenhofen. This research aircraft, which can reach an altitude of 15,000 metres and carry a payload of three tonnes, will yield, for example, more precise knowledge of the chemistry an transportation of trace gasses in the troposphere and the lower stratosphere.
One of the objectives of DLR is to utilise its knowledge and technological potential in corporate policy. In collaboration with the Bavarian Ministry of Economics, a facility for Technology Marketing and Transfer was therefore set up in Oberpfaffenhofen in 1995. The low-emission oil burner and the aerodynamics of ICE trains are examples of successful implementation of DLR know-how in sectors outside the aeronautics and space travel industries. The facility has meanwhile developed an extensive network through which it can instantly initiate the necessary contacts between research institutions, industries and ministries, allowing innovative ideas to be implemented far quicker. In addition, the market entry phase of the respective product can be significantly shortened. The department professionally supports start-ups from conception to market entry. It is also thanks to the facility for Technology Marketing and Transfer that the DLR site at Oberpfaffenhofen is able to generate a third of its budget itself.