Course paper / final thesis

Characterising the optical channel between ground and space

Starting date

1 February 2023

Duration of contract

6 months


up to German TVöD 5

Type of employment


It is conventional for satellites and Earth-based stations to communicate using radio transmissions. At these wavelengths the atmosphere is transparent. However, a revolutionary technology is emerging that harnesses the capability of performing these transmissions at optical wavelengths. A compelling advantage of free-space optical communication is that it would increase the current rate of data transfer by many orders of magnitude. It is believed that this will lead the way towards future generations having worldwide high-speed internet access. Another driving force is that the realisation of this technology would transform deep space exploration.

Optical wavefronts from a celestial source propagate freely through outer space. It is only in the last fraction of their journey towards the Earth – where they propagate through atmospheric turbulence – that they become perturbed. The source of this image blurring is the constant mixing of different temperatures throughout the atmosphere, causing the wavefront to travel through regions of varying refractive index. These aberrations are so severe that they prevent optical ground-space links from being established.

One of the most promising solutions for mitigating the effects of atmospheric turbulence is Adaptive Optics (AO) – a real-time technology that corrects for wavefront aberrations by first measuring their integrated strength. The wind drives atmospheric turbulence. Therefore, these AO systems must be updated thousands of times per second. The entire performance of the AO system depends on the strength and speed distribution of turbulent layers throughout the atmosphere. Characterising these atmospheric parameters is critical for optimised AO performance, AO performance verification and automated site ranking, i.e. spacecraft can use this information to select the ground station currently best suited for stable communication.

The project will focus on optimising AO system performance for free-space optical communication. Its research topics will cover techniques for characterising the effects of atmospheric turbulence. DLR has already developed a number of sophisticated instruments that have taken data at world-leading observatories. The student will be tasked with further developing existing software tools for analysing this data. They will have access to advanced simulation software and high-performance computing hardware. It is hoped that they will support scientific measurement campaigns, and use this opportunity to test their developed concepts on-sky. Novel ideas will be encouraged.


  • theoretical analysis of optical wavefront propagation
  • implementation and performance analysis of novel algorithms
  • evaluation of measurements and analysis of the results
  • writing and maintaining advanced software packages
  • concise presentation of results and further ideas
  • possible participation in on-sky measurement campaigns

Your qualifications:

  • Master Student in the field of Physics, Astronomy, Mathematics, Space Sciences, Computer Science or Optical Engineering
  • ideally highly experienced in Python programming language
  • understanding of optical propagation and wavefront modelling welcome

Your benefits:

Look forward to a fulfilling job with an employer who appreciates your commitment and supports your personal and professional development. Our unique infrastructure offers you a working environment in which you have unparalleled scope to develop your creative ideas and accomplish your professional objectives. Our human resources policy places great value on a healthy family and work-life-balance as well as equal opportunities for persons of all genders (f/m/x). Individuals with disabilities will be given preferential consideration in the event their qualifications are equivalent to those of other candidates.

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Technical contact

Dr. Douglas Laidlaw
Institute of Communications and Navigation

Phone: +49 8153 28-4522

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Vacancy 73104

HR department Oberpfaffenhofen

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DLR site Oberpfaffenhofen

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DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation

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