In January 2021, researchers travelled from Hamburg to the Falkland Islands on a record-breaking 13 700-kilometre flight – the longest non-stop flight in Lufthansa's history. On 30 March 2021, an Airbus A350-900 will take off for Mount Pleasant for the second time. This time, it will be carrying researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) that will use the flight to study cosmic radiation in the geographical region of the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA).
The SAA is located off the coast of Brazil. It is caused by the shift of Earth's magnetic field axis, which does not pass directly through the Earth’s centre. As a result, the inner Van Allen radiation belt in the South Atlantic region extends down particularly close to Earth. This leads to increased radiation levels in near-Earth space in the region. However, previous measurements have shown that this increase is not seen as deep in the atmosphere as typical cruising altitudes of around 10,000 metres. Now, for the first time, comprehensive measurements will be carried out at an altitude of 13,000 metres.
The DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine has been supporting Lufthansa since 2001 in ensuring the legally required radiation protection for flight personnel. "We determine the exposure due to cosmic radiation with a model that we regularly check on measurement flights," explains Matthias Meier, who has spent years researching radiation exposure at cruising altitudes at the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine and leads its Radiation Protection in Aviation Group. "A significant deviation from our model calculations would be a minor scientific sensation," he explains.
Lufthansa will soon take off again on behalf of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), which is located in Bremerhaven. AWI will use the flight to exchange the crew of the Polarstern research vessel and pick up the members of an Antarctic research expedition. On its way back from the region in which research was being conducted, the Polarstern will stop in Atka Bay. Here, 25 more people will embark – the summer staff and the overwintering crew from Neumayer Station III. The latter will then return to Germany following more than 15 months in the Antarctic. DLR operates the EDEN ISS greenhouse in Antarctica directly next to AWI's Neumayer Station III to trial vegetable cultivation techniques for future crewed missions to the Moon and Mars.
"We are pleased not only to be able to support AWI's polar research expedition with the second flight, but to also be able to make an important contribution to climate and radiation research," says Fleet Captain for Lufthansa and Project Manager for Falkland. To comply with the strict health and safety requirements for the second flight to the Falkland Islands, the 17-person Lufthansa crew, the DLR research team and all other passengers have been in quarantine in a hotel in Bremerhaven since 15 March 2021. Lufthansa is expected to fly the DLR team, the crew of the Polarstern and the AWI's international research group back to Munich on 3 April.