Technologically, spaceflight remains a complex field even after more than 50 years. It tests the skills and creativity of our engineers to the limit, and demands close co-operation between scientists and long-term, consistent mission planning. The key to success lies in an international coordination of space activities with a clearly defined division of labour to make the most efficient use of investments in the sector.
By supporting technology development within Germany, the National Space Programme creates a basis for keeping Germany competitive in modern space technologies and space-based research. The only way for a country to assert national interests in international co-operation is to build on its own strengths. Retaining national system competence becomes even more important where national or entrepreneurial interests cannot be implemented in an international context. In space technology as well as elsewhere, co-operation and competition remain the two essential ways to reach national objectives effectively.With its capabilities demonstrated and underpinned by a national programme, Germany participates in co-operations within the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), and the European Union (EU) as well as with non-European partners. In the field of Earth observation, for example, international co-ordination forums like the Group on Earth Observations, the Committee on Earth Observing Satellites, and the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters are growing more and more important.
Another important field is referred to as space situational awareness. It is concerned with monitoring the orbits of active and inactive satellites and space debris in order to protect the infrastructures in near-Earth orbits. As maintaining safety and orderliness in space can only be achieved through international co-operation, Europe's major spacefaring nations, Germany and France, are co-operating in this field with particular intensity and in close consultation with the USA.
Sophisticated projects such as space probes destined for other planets, space-based telescopes, and the International Space Station can similarly be realised only through broad international co-operation with clearly defined powers and responsibilities. This concerns the formulation of mission concepts, the building of instruments and infrastructures, the scientific definition of space missions, and the ground stations that are required to ensure continuous operation.
Enhanced international co-operation enables Germany's industry to participate in missions that are beyond the country's national capabilities. This equally applies to German space science, which is part of a closely knit network of international partners. Leading German research institutes within the Max Planck Society, DLR, and various universities are contributing to various international key projects in, for example, infrared and x-ray astronomy, the exploration of gravitational waves, space medicine, fundamental physical processes such as plasma and colloid physics, and experiments to investigate the Bose-Einstein condensation on the International Space Station.
Space science and technology is predestined for international co-operation. At the same time, it is instrumental in promoting international understanding as such. After the end of the cold war, the programme of building an International Space Station, mankind's most complex technological and scientific enterprise to date, has led to peaceful, intense, and enduring co-operation between Russia and the western partners USA, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Today, co-operation in space also supports relations with China, India, and Brazil.
Space activities provide, and benefit from, constructive international co-operation opportunities. They help to broaden Germany’s position as a place of business and scientific research. For this reason, the Space Administration aims to extend its international activities by proposing a range of new, clearly defined co-operation projects and programmes.