September 22, 2017 | DLR showcases its research at the International Astronautical Congress 2017

Greenhouses for the Moon, moles for Mars

  • The German Aerospace Center is exhibiting its research in stand 42 at the IAC in Adelaide, Australia, which starts on Monday, 25 September.
  • DLR Chair Pascale Ehrenfreund will participate in a panel discussing future Deep Space exploration missions.
  • On display at the DLR stand: propulsion, robotics and Earth observation exhibits.
  • Focus: space, Earth observation, exploration, microgravity research

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) will be showcasing its latest research at this year's International Astronautical Congress (International Astronautical Federation (IAF)) in Adelaide, Australia. Exhibits will feature a rotating satellite that can generate lunar and martian gravitation, a modular system for building future satellites, and a 'mole' that is designed to explore the martian 'underworld'. In total, DLR will present 10 space-related exhibits at the IAC from 25 to 29 September 2017.

At the congress, Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board, will join with representatives of the US space agency NASA, the European space agency ESA, the Russian space agency ROSCOSMOS and others to discuss new insights and current plans for the exploration of the Moon and Mars. She will also take part in a panel discussion with representatives of the Canadian, European and US space agencies to explore possible scenarios for deep space exploration after 2024. The panel discussion with international representatives of the scientific and industrial communities, which will be chaired by Hansjörg Dittus, DLR Executive Board Member for Space Research and Technology, will look into concepts and plans for the post International Space Station (ISS) period. DLR Executive Board Member for the Space Administration Gerd Gruppe will also lead a discussion on Germany's current and future contributions towards research in the space sector.

The exhibits include:

EDEN ISS- Fruit and vegetables in the Antarctic
Starting at the end of 2017, the DLR EDEN ISS greenhouse will be set up in direct proximity to the Neumayer-Station III of the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Antarctica to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for one whole year. Scientists will use this project to replicate the conditions during a long-term space mission as realistically as possible: with the isolated location, the small crew that lives together in seclusion, and a situation in which fresh food on the menu would be extremely welcome. This year in the Antarctic is a dress rehearsal to test whether the systems will function under real, harsh conditions.

EnMAP - The German hyperspectral satellite for Earth observation
Germany's first optical Earth observation mission will begin in 2020 with the launch of the hyperspectral satellite EnMAP (Environmental Mapping and Analysis Programme). Optical imaging spectrometers with high spatial and temporal resolution measure the sunlight reflected from Earth across a wide range of wavelengths from the visible to the short wave infrared. This will make it possible to accurately study the condition of Earth's surface and the changes affecting it.

In the martian subsurface with the HP3 'mole'
To date, Mars has been explored through observations from orbit and measurements taken directly on the surface. However, until now, there has been no investigation of what lies beneath. This is set to change in May 2018 when the NASA mission InSight flies to the Red Planet. On board will be the experimental HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package) developed at DLR. HP3 – DLR's 'mole' – will penetrate multiple metres into the surface to perform heat flow measurements and investigate the thermomechanical properties of the Martian soil.

FireBIRD - Fire detection from space
FireBIRD is an Earth observation mission whose primary objective is monitoring fires from space. This involves the detection and management of so-called high-temperature events and the provision of remote sensing data for DLR research purposes and that of external partners. In addition to its scientific objectives the mission will also serve as a technology test, for instance, in terms of its propulsion (cold gas) and communications technology (optical). All segments of the Earth observation venture are controlled by DLR.

Orbital Hub – The cosmic research platform
The history of the International Space Station (ISS) began in 1988 with the arrival of the Russian cargo module Zarya, followed just two years later by its first residents. Since then, the platform has been a flying laboratory, drifting through microgravity 400 kilometres above Earth. Technical operation of the ISS, however, is estimated to be possible only until 2028, according to the United States space agency NASA. This has prompted DLR to devise a concept for a new low-orbit research platform for the post-ISS period. Known as the 'Orbital Hub', it would consist of a free flyer, a residential module and a service module.

Eu:CROPIS - Harvesting tomatoes in space
A symbiotic community of bacteria, tomatoes and single-cell algae, synthetic urine and a satellite that simulates gravity on the Moon and Mars by rotating around its axis – these elements make up the DLR Eu:CROPIS (Euglena and Combined Regenerative Organic-Food Production in Space) mission. A combined life-support system will utilise the waste product recycled urine to manufacture fertiliser and help grow tomatoes for lunar and Mars habitats as well as long duration missions. Two such greenhouses are scheduled for launch into space in spring of 2018.

HEMP - Travelling through space on a plasma drive
Satellites are sent to space using a launcher, which gives them enough acceleration to overcome both gravity and air resistance. The high level of thrust required for this is supplied by chemical engines. Once in space, significantly more efficient electric thrusters can be used for satellite orientation, orbit corrections and fast space travel. These drives are more effective compared to chemical drives, as they are more fuel efficient. This will be demonstrated by the all-electric 'High Efficiency Multi Stage Plasma' thruster (HEMP-T), funded by the DLR Space Administration, when it propels the Heinrich-Hertz satellite to space upon its launch in 2021.

iBOSS - Modular satellites
Creating a satellite today means developing and building something singular and unique, intended exclusively for just one mission. In contrast, the purpose of the iBOSS (intelligent Building Blocks for On-Orbit Satellite Servicing and Assembly) project, funded by the DLR Space Administration, is to build modular satellites according to a construction kit principle. It would mean that individual, standardised components such as cubes measuring 40 cubic centimetres and interfaces could be selected from a catalogue and assembled at will.

The Franco-German climate mission MERLIN
Acquiring a better understanding of the methane cycle is essential in order to introduce effective climate protection measures. Particular key regions like tropical wetlands, rainforests and expanses of permafrost are difficult to access without satellites. Starting in 2021, the mini satellite MERLIN (Methane Remote Sensing LIDAR Mission) will be tasked with detecting and monitoring methane from an altitude of approximately 500 kilometres using a Lidar instrument (Light Detecting and Ranging). One of the objectives of the three-year mission is to generate a map of global methane concentration.

OSIRIS - Optical communication for microsats
OSIRIS, the Optical Space Infrared Downlink System, was developed by the DLR Institute of Communications and Navigation to ensure optical data transmissions from satellites to Earth. OSIRIS was optimised for microsatellites in particular, enabling data rates far in excess of one gigabit per second – magnitudes greater than the data rates achieved by typical small satellites. Moreover, optical communications systems are smaller, lighter and require less electric power than comparable radio systems.


Manuela Braun

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