In 2017, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) – in close cooperation with the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) – committed to a new strategy that targets long-term future goals. "This new strategy, along with scientific expertise and highly effective research infrastructure, allows DLR to position itself in the future as a dependable partner for industry and an experienced policy consultant," says Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, as she looks ahead to the coming year. As such, DLR's focus areas on aeronautics, space, transport and energy and the cross-sectoral topics of security and digitalisation increasingly enable DLR to address current social and economic policy challenges and harness potential synergies more effectively. Moreover, DLR has grown in the past year: a total of seven new institutes were founded in Augsburg, Bremerhaven, Dresden, Hamburg, Jena and Oldenburg, where research has already started in each location.
Large-scale energy storage systems and computer-based aircraft construction
Since 2017 DLR has been able to make the Sun shine at the push of a button: energy researchers in Jülich have been using the largest artificial Sun in the world, Synlight, to develop new processes for producing solar fuels. To enable industrial operations to use energy more efficiently in the future, the DLR-run TESIS (Test Facility for Thermal Energy Storage in Molten Salt) is being used to test molten salt storage systems on an industrial scale since earlier this year.
Tomorrow's aircraft will be designed and more quickly and cost-effectively tested by computers, while their maintenance history will be precisely and efficiently tracked using a digital twin. A high-performance supercomputer was put into operation for that very purpose in 2017, with more to follow. Not only is digitalisation finding its way into aircraft construction, but sensors and computers may also take over during flight in the future: in a study, DLR aeronautics researchers showed that in future cargo aircraft will be able to fly without pilots and be controlled from the ground.
Automated travelling will not be exclusive to air transport in future, but is set to help us travel around on land, too: in 2017 DLR opened its Niedersachsen Test Field for the development of automated and networked mobility solutions. In addition, DLR researchers are working to ensure that highly automated vehicles are reliably tested before they are used on roads.
2017 also saw the space rover ROBEX getting about using driverless technology: it found its own way across the lunar equivalent landscape of Mount Etna in a test run for a robotic mission on the Moon. In future the Galileo navigation system will also provide mobility solutions: in late 2017 the satellite fleet grew to a total of 22 with the launch of the satellites 'Nicole', 'Zofia', 'Alexandre' and 'Irina' The expansion of the navigation system is progressing swiftly, and all services are set to be available once the system is fully operational in 2020.
We want to be able to travel safely not just on land and in the air, but also on water. To this end, DLR is working on the R-Mode Baltic project, a reliable alternative navigation system with an accuracy of one metre, particularly near the coast and in harbour areas.
Explore our Year in Images via our Flickr gallery marking all our 2017 highlights. We wish you all a happy festive season and a wonderful start to 2018, a brand new year of research!