3. March 2022
Possible applications in aerospace

DLR and NASA are joint­ly de­vel­op­ing a soft­ware pack­age for quan­tum com­put­ers

Optimising flight routes
Op­ti­mis­ing flight routes
Image 1/2, Credit: DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Optimising flight routes

The soft­ware mod­ule, which was de­vel­oped by the DLR In­sti­tute for Soft­ware Tech­nol­o­gy, helps, for ex­am­ple, with the route op­ti­mi­sa­tion of transat­lantic flights.
Manoeuvre optimisation of transatlantic flights with quantum computers
Ma­noeu­vre op­ti­mi­sa­tion of transat­lantic flights with quan­tum com­put­ers
Image 2/2, Credit: © DLR/NASA

Manoeuvre optimisation of transatlantic flights with quantum computers

In this ex­am­ple, the routes of two air­craft over­lap. This can lead to a con­flict if both air­craft fly over the in­ter­sec­tion at the same time. The soft­ware mod­ule for quan­tum com­put­ers de­vel­oped by the DLR In­sti­tute for Soft­ware Tech­nol­o­gy can help to in­ves­ti­gate quan­tum com­put­er ap­proach­es to re­al-world tasks such as con­flict-res­o­lu­tion. The graph­ic shows two flight paths over New­found­land and the east coast of Cana­da and the USA.
  • The software will be open source.
  • A module from the DLR research group can be used to explore quantum computing for applications such as flight route optimisation or satellite missions planning.
  • Focus: Quantum technology, quantum computing, digitalisation, aerospace

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) and the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are collaborating on a software library that will make it possible to use today's quantum computers to explore the potential of quantum computing to solve real-world aerospace application problems. The Quantum Computing research group at DLR has already published a software module that has been used to explore quantum computing approaches for tasks such as optimising routes for transatlantic flights, allocating aircraft at major airports or planning satellite missions. NASA and DLR are now developing further modules and will subsequently make them available as open-source software. The cooperation was agreed in January 2022.

"As one of the first and world-leading research groups for application-oriented quantum computing research, NASA's research group, the Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (QuAIL), is an attractive cooperation partner for DLR. There are many similarities with DLR's research goals and use cases," says Tobias Stollenwerk, head of the Quantum Computing Research Group at the DLR Institute for Software Technology in Cologne. DLR and NASA have been conducting joint research on quantum computing since 2016. This cooperation will now be strengthened. Among other things, software is to be further developed to support the creation of new quantum computer algorithms. There is also a focus on software for compiling and error suppression in computing processes.

The partners are also continuing to work on the DLR group's software module. The module serves as an interface for the transfer of industrial planning problems to quantum computers. It was developed in the Enabling QUAnTum AdvantagE (EQUATE) project. The project is investigating whether a certain problem can be solved faster on a state-of-the-art quantum computer than on a conventional computer. It is also looking at how quantum computers can be efficiently used in combination with conventional computers.

Quantum computing at the DLR Institute for Software Technology

The Institute for Software Technology has been researching quantum computing since 2015. The Quantum Computing research group is part of the High-Performance Computing Department. The central tasks of the group include the development and study of algorithms and software for early quantum computers.

Quantum computers promise extreme runtime improvements for certain application problems that cannot currently be solved with conventional computers. While conventional computers solve computational tasks using 'bits' that take one of two values, zero or one, quantum computers work based on 'qubits'. These can assume many different states simultaneously. Algorithms that exploit these properties optimally can significantly outperform conventional algorithms.

  • Katja Lenz
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)

    Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Me­dia Re­la­tions
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-5401
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
  • Tobias Stollenwerk
    Team Lead Quan­tum Com­put­ing
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    In­sti­tute for Soft­ware Tech­nol­o­gy
    High-Per­for­mance Com­put­ing
    Linder Höhe
    51147 Cologne
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Binary digit. The unit of calculation of a classical computer which can have either the value 0 or 1. A byte consists of eight bits.


Qubits (quantum bits) are the smallest computing and storage units of a quantum computer, based on the laws of quantum mechanics. In contrast to the classic bits of conventional digital computers, which can only have states 0 and 1, qubits can assume an infinite number of intermediate values. Two-state quantum systems at the atomic level (for example atoms, ions or light quanta) or in solids (for example in semiconductors or superconductors) serve as qubits.

Quantum computer

Novel form of computer that works on the basis of the laws of quantum physics. Its quantum bits (qubits) can not only assume the states 0 and 1, but also intermediate values. Quantum computers have the potential to solve certain tasks that classical computers are not able to.


United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration.