The DLR site at Oberpfaffenhofen
Together with the site at Koeln, 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
For example, Professor Gerd Hirzinger's DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics is one of the largest and most successful facilities of its kind in Europe. The institute's software and hardware developments have enabled leading German industrial robot manufacturers to significantly increase their competitiveness. Currently however, the DLR institute is mainly focusing 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 Head of Institute Professor Gerd Hirzinger. The institute is also doing ground-breaking work on earth. For example, Hirzinger's staff are currently developing robot arm systems that will allow surgeons to perform complex operations with only a tiny incision. The most successful product the DLR institute has so far brought to market ist 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.
The DLR site at Oberpfaffenhofen is also aiming high with regard to the European satellite navigation system Galileo. Senior staff at the Institute of Communications and Navigation are currently focusing on the "Galileo" project, which DLR has also applied to operate. Several measuring campaigns were already undertaken in 2002. Among other things, the scientists flew a zeppelin over the Bavarian capital of Munich. Simulating a Galileo satellite, the airship sent out signals that were captured by an escort vehicle on the ground. The civilian Galileo programme is intended to compete with the American GPS, which is controlled by the military. By the year 2012, 30 Galileo satellites and three backup 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 investment costs, which will be covered by the EU, ESA and private companies, come to approx. 3.3bn euros.
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.
Columbus Module as most important European contribution to ISS
The contract concluded with the European Space Agency ESA on 31st March 2003 regarding the development of the Columbus Control Center is the well-deserved reward of many years of experience and competence in conducting manned space expeditions at the DLR's German Space Operations Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhofen. GSOC is considered the site’s flagship facility. More than 50 satellites – both scientific and commercial – have been guided to their intended orbits from here. In addition, DLR has contributed to human space flights, including the Spacelab D2 mission in 1993. The German Space Operations Center was involved throughout the mission of the "Columbia" space shuttle and had unrestricted access to all data and full responsibility for payload operation. The crew aboard the "Columbia" included two German astronauts, Ulrich Walter and Hans Schlegel. In the operation of the Columbus Control Centrer the Oberpfaffenhofen site is taking on another historic challenge. The Columbus module is Europe’s most significant contribution to the space station programme. Scientists are hoping that the numerous experiments planned in the space station laboratory will yield a greater understanding of materials or behaviours of organic and inorganic substances at zero gravity; research will also include proteins that form more easily in zero gravity and will be accordingly easier to decode. In February 2008 the module was launched from the spaceport at Cape Canaveral to the ISS by space shuttle and attached to the ISS. The Columbus Control Center in Oberpfaffenhofen controls the module and the work performed on board. More than 40 jobs were created at DLR and another 60 in subcontracting companies. This team monitors and controls the module - in close collaboration with Astrium, ESA and NASA as well as partners from Russia, Japan and Canada.
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.