Digitalisation, climate change and technological disruption are shaping the future. This is where interdisciplinary research at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) proves valuable. On 27 June 2019, the DLR Senate approved the founding of seven new institutes and facilities. The background to this was a resolution passed in the German Federal Parliament on 23 November 2018. By taking this step, DLR is strengthening Germany as a location for technological research and creating highly-skilled jobs.
"The findings from our aeronautics, space, energy and transport research are geared toward developing solutions for the major challenges facing society," says Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. "The cutting-edge research that will be conducted at the new institutes will allow us to strengthen our work in the five main areas of DLR’s Strategy 2030: mobility, the digital transformation, security, sustainability and strengthening Germany's position as a prime location for science, innovation and business."
International experts from the fields of science and industry evaluated the concept for the new institutes during April and May 2019. Their report confirms the scientific excellence and societal relevance of the new DLR institutes and facilities. These are to be established in Hannover, Ulm, Oberpfaffenhofen, Neustrelitz, Cottbus and Zittau, Rhein-Sieg-Kreis, and Cochstedt. DLR will now have sites in 12 German federal states. The expansion will also benefit the Helmholtz Association as a whole.
The German Federal Government is investing an additional 63 million euro per year in DLR research. In addition, the federal states in which the institutes and facilities are to be located will also contribute a total of seven million euro of funding per year.
The new DLR institutes – an overview
Satellite communications and navigation rely largely on a precise knowledge of location, time and acceleration. In conjunction with industry, the DLR Institute of Quantum Technologies will develop measurement instruments based on quantum-mechanical effects. The aim is to achieve unprecedented levels of accuracy. The wave properties of matter, for example, can be used for this purpose. In order to make global communications more secure, researchers are also working on implementing quantum communications and quantum cryptography on satellites.
With the establishment of the Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensing in Hanover, DLR is enhancing its expertise in the field of application-oriented sensor technology for novel satellite missions, for example in the field of satellite-based Earth monitoring. The Institute will develop novel inertial sensors based on quantum technology and implement promising quantum optical methods for use in space. Applications range from miniaturised quantum sensors to satellite-supported measurements of natural phenomena on Earth, such as the investigation of ice mass losses or the effects of field irrigation on the availability of drinking water.
The new Galileo Competence Center at the DLR site in Oberpfaffenhofen site will develop technologies for the next and subsequent generations of navigation satellites. The aim is to devise completely new applications. These will range from short-term, high-precision localisation to applications for controlling autonomous or automated systems. The requirements for robustness, reliability and accuracy are very stringent. The Institute will also be involved in the further development of the European Galileo satellite navigation system.
Space weather manifests itself in a variety of ways and has a range of effects on Earth. The impact of the solar wind on the ionosphere affects satellites, aviation, telecommunications and navigation. For this reason, monitoring space weather is a crucial national task. The new Institute for Solar-Terrestrial Physics is being established at the DLR site in Neustrelitz. It will create the conditions for prompt, precise and reliable observation and forecasting of space weather, and thus help to make vulnerable infrastructure components more resilient.
DLR is expanding its work in the field of energy research at its Cottbus and Zittau sites in the Lusatia region. The objective is to significantly reduce carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions from industrial processes and power plants over the next decade. The research focuses on the decarbonisation of energy-intensive industrial sectors and sustainable power generation and storage. This includes the development of high-temperature heat pumps and the option of converting conventional power plants into low-carbon energy suppliers (known as the 'Third Life for Coal-Fired Power Plants' programme). It will also focus on the provision of high-temperature heat from renewable sources.
The research and development activities carried out at the new institute in Rhein-Sieg-Kreis will focus on the protection of critical infrastructure. This includes infrastructure in the transport and energy sectors, without which society simply could not prosper and the economy would cease to be competitive. The world is becoming increasingly digitalised and connected, making it vital to monitor security and protection aspects in all their complexity, interactions and variability, conduct assessments using digital twins, and ensure security throughout the entire lifecycle.
Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) are already being used in disaster relief and for the transport of medicines to remote areas. In addition to such specialist missions, the entire uncrewed aviation industry is currently experiencing rapid growth with the development of new concepts and technologies. However, the development, testing, construction and operation of UAS pose new challenges for research institutions and industry, especially in the field of urban air mobility. For certification reasons, it will be necessary to comprehensively test and qualify these novel systems under real conditions in a controlled environment.
In addition, research is being conducted into the acceptance and impact of UAS in society, particularly with regard to noise, safety and environmental impact, as well as the clarification of open legislative issues and regulations. The establishment of the testing centre in Saxony-Anhalt, together with the activities already underway at state level, is intended to establish a highly innovative research network that is unique in Europe in order to research, test and shape the development of uncrewed aviation in Germany.