Chasing emissions from alternative aircraft fuels with NASA. Successfully setting down a lander on the asteroid Ryugu and collecting data from the surface. Obtaining the first research findings for the autonomous and cooperative driving systems of tomorrow in the Next Generation Car project. And a 40 of a total of 41 German experiments were carried out successfully in microgravity during the horizons mission to the ISS. These are just four of the numerous highlights from this year.
“As 2018 draws to a close, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) looks back on many eventful months. With our research work, we have made important contributions, not only to strengthening Germany as a location of business and science, but also to addressing global issues such as climate change and societal challenges such as digitalisation, "emphasises Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. "We were able to rely on cooperation with our national and international partners, and above all on the trust and support of the federal and state governments. The latter was particularly reflected in the growth of DLR, with seven new institutes and facilities."
For the Energy Transition and climate protection
In January, aeronautics engineers and atmospheric researchers from DLR embarked on a series of measuring flights over Germany, in conjunction with NASA. The aim of the ND-MAX/ECLIF 2 (NASA/DLR-Multidisciplinary Airborne eXperiments/Emission and CLimate Impact of alternative Fuel) project was to investigate the climatic impact of new kerosene/biofuel blends for aircraft. Particulate emissions and their influence on cloud formation from contrails were measured and compared to those of conventional jet A-1 kerosene.
Research into new energy storage systems and a sustainable energy system are crucial for the Energy Transition. Until now, there has been a lack of highly efficient and cost-effective energy storage systems on a power-plant scale. In October, DLR, the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) agreed to the construction of a joint facility for research into novel batteries that can store electricity with an efficiency of up to 70 percent. This power is converted into heat by high-temperature heat pumps, whereupon the heat is stored inexpensively and can be reconverted through a thermal power process if required.
Wind turbines represent a vital element in the provision of renewable energy. Since December, DLR has been working on the SmartBlades2 project in conjunction with other research institutions and industry partners to investigate innovative, intelligent rotor blades. These are equipped with bend-twist coupling are able to adapt to varying wind conditions on their own – at higher wind speeds the rotor blades can bend or twist, thus offering the wind a smaller impact surface. This reduces the overall load on the system, thus increasing the service life of the wind turbine.
Over 400 companies took part in the ‘Ich entlaste Städte’ (‘Taking the load off cities’) research project , putting cargo bikes to the test. They used this climate-friendly alternative to conventional transport vehicles on over 12,000 journeys, covering a total distance of around 140,000 kilometres. The bikes were well received by the participants: one in five bought a cargo bike at the end of the test phase. The trial run for the project, led by the DLR Institute of Transport Research, which is investigating the acceptance, use and impact of cargo bikes for commercial transport, will last until the end of 2019.
New space technologies – vegetables for space
The EDEN ISS greenhouse arrived in Antarctica in January 2018. By establishing a laboratory in this inhospitable environment, DLR scientists are looking to get as close as possible to the conditions of a long-term space mission. Paul Zabel of the DLR Institute of Space Systems grew lettuce, vegetables and herbs in the greenhouse container using artificial light and effective nutrient solutions, all without soil. It was a huge success: by September, Zabel had harvested 77 kilograms of lettuce, 51 kilograms of cucumbers and 29 kilograms of tomatoes. After living there for a year, he is now set to return to Bremen, Germany. This research laboratory also investigates food production in climatically unfavourable regions, such as deserts and Arctic regions.
The next step is to test greenhouses directly in space. Eu:CROPIS was launched into orbit on 3 December. The DLR satellite houses two greenhouses that should grow the first dwarf tomatoes in space in 2019. Algae and a nutrient solution converted from synthetic urine will serve as fertilisers. The mission is intended to demonstrate how astronauts can be provided with fresh food by biological life support systems on future long-duration missions.
Automated and networked mobility – ‘Next Generation Transport’
DLR presented its holistic Next Generation Train logistics concept at InnoTrans 2018. The NGT CARGO is a high-speed train for future freight transport and is aimed at increasing the appeal of rail freight transport in order to relieve the pressure on the environment and the road system.
Alongside the train of tomorrow, DLR is also conducting research into the cars of the future. In autumn, the transport researchers from Braunschweig presented the first findings of their Next Generation Car project and showed a cooperative lane change between two connected, independently operating vehicles during driving demonstrations.
Artificial intelligence on the ISS, a successful asteroid landing and a ‘mole’ on Mars
horizons mission: On 6 June the German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst set off on his second journey to the International Space Station ISS, having first been there in 2014. Forty-one of the mission’s experiments were ‘made in Germany’. One of the highlights of horizons was CIMON, an astronaut assistance system and ‘cyber colleague’ for Gerst. The flying and autonomously operating CIMON is equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) by IBM Watson and successfully completed its first space mission in November: The ‘high-tech plastic sphere’ interacted with ‘Astro Alex’ in the Columbus module of the ISS for about 90 minutes.
The Japanese space probe Hayabusa2 reached the asteroid Ryugu in June, after a three-and-a-half-year flight through space. On board was the MASCOT lander, which touched down on the surface on 3 October 2018 and collected data in several locations over the course of 17 hours. This is the first time that the surface of an asteroid has been explored in such detail. The aim of the mission is to learn more about the origin and evolution of the Solar System and to test innovative technologies for planetary exploration.
In May, the NASA InSight space probe embarked on its journey to Mars, which ended on 26 November with a successful landing on the Red Planet. The experiments are set to begin in early 2019. One of them is the DLR Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3 for short. The ‘Mars mole’ is expected to burrow up to five metres into the ground in small stages from January to March, and will spend two years providing data about thermal conductivity and temperature gradients in the Martian interior.
Unmanned flight and the virtual product
DLR’s aviation research continues to advance the digitalisation of the entire lifecycle of an aircraft, from production, to certification and manufacturing, through to maintenance. In late October, DLR opened the Institute of Test and Simulation for Gas Turbines in Augsburg, as the last of four new institutes dedicated to research on integrated digitalisation in aviation. The European Commission has set itself ambitious aviation targets with its Flightpath 2050 agenda. Engines should emit between 75 and 90 percent less carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides, and aircraft noise is set to be reduced by 65 percent. Innovative engine technology and concepts need to be developed in order to achieve these goals. The DLR scientists based in Augsburg will build a globally unique 'virtual engine' for this purpose, as a digital platform for optimising engine components right up to its 'digital twin', the digital image of the real component. The DLR Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology is conducting research into reducing noise emissions: in September, scientists converted the DLR Advanced Technology Research Aircraft (ATRA) into the 'Low Noise ATRA' to test the noise-reducing effect of retrofittable attachments.
The second current trend in aviation is the development of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), with an array of possible applications. In agriculture, for instance, such systems could be used as flying laser systems to detect fungal infestation in viticulture at an early stage. UAS could also be used to distribute aid supplies in disaster relief operations. Launched from ships, they can create situational images quickly and autonomously from the air and thus help to protect maritime routes.
Crisis and disaster management of the future: safety in ports and at sea
In addition to maritime routes, harbours and offshore wind farms should also be protected against accidents and attacks. In October the DLR opened the Institute for the Protection of Maritime Infrastructures in Bremerhaven. It is the first institute of its kind in Europe. One area of focus is the development of new technologies to increase resilience, the ability of maritime infrastructures not to fail even in the event of disruption.
The DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation tested AIS-Plus, an improved version of conventional automatic identification system (AIS) receivers, in Rotterdam harbour. The new system is intended to receive position reports from ships near the coast with a greater degree of accuracy and a bigger range, even at peak traffic times and in poor transmission conditions.
2018 – a year of anniversaries
In February we wished Columbus a happy birthday. The multidisciplinary laboratory for research into microgravity conditions is Europe’s contribution to the International Space Station ISS, and celebrated its tenth birthday this year. The German Space Operations Centre (GSOC) turned 50 one month later. Over 70 space missions have been conducted from the DLR facility in Oberpfaffenhohen since its establishment.
GSOC is also home to the Galileo Control Centre. The satellites 'Tara', 'Samuel', 'Anna' and 'Ellen' were placed in orbit in July, so that it should be possible for users to navigate exclusively worldwide using Galileo signals. The launch of the final satellites in the Galileo family is planned for late 2020.
At the end of November the largest technologogical project of all times, the International Space Station (ISS), also celebrated a milestone birthday: its 20th to be precise. The first ISS component was launched into space on board a Russian Proton rocket on 20 November 1998. The station has been expanding ever since and from November 2000 the station has had permanent occupancy. The ISS is operated jointly by the USA, Russia, the member states of the European Space Agency (ESA), Canada and Japan.