Space Re­search at DLR

Programme and strategy

DLR's LRU2 robot during the ARCHES space simulation on Mount Etna
The Lightweight Rover Unit 2 (LRU) during a very unusual outdoor test on Mount Etna. In order to test mission scenarios for robotic exploration on Earth before going to the Moon or Mars, scientists have been looking for places on Earth that come close to the conditions on another celestial body. From 13 June to 9 July 2022, Mount Etna on the Italian island of Sicily will become a 'quasi-Moon', as the volcanic landscape with its granular surface and solidified lava layers resembles the geological composition of the Moon. ARCHES stands for 'Autonomous Robotic Networks to Help Modern Societies'. Researchers use Etna's harsh environment as a 'lunar analogue'. Several rovers, a lander and a drone work together, exploring their surroundings and performing tasks.

Space has become indispensable in the twenty-first century. It hosts important infrastructure for our modern lives on Earth, such as for communication, navigation, Earth and climate monitoring and robotic applications. It provides important insights into the development of Earth, the Solar System, the Universe and enables the generation of new fundamental knowledge. Space research is also the driver of numerous innovations in fields such as microelectronics, material sciences and robotics.

Systems expertise in space research – a unique selling point of DLR

The work carried out in space research is geared to societal needs and, in this context, provides numerous new solutions and technology developments for various industrial sectors. At the same time, DLR conducts fundamental research for pure knowledge gain and for the establishment of new research questions across a diverse range of disciplines. DLR's 'Space Research and Technology' research and development programme is aligned with the German government's space strategy and is based on research policy guidelines and HGF recommendations. The implementation of the programme is simultaneously integrated into scientific and commercial activities at national and international levels with the goal of achieving societal and scientific benefits.

To this end, DLR space research advances a number of focus areas across six programmatic themes to ensure a balanced, diverse and vital programme for shaping how we make use of space in the future.

Medium-term goals of DLR space research

  • Development and realisation of innovative SAR technologies with the aim of maintaining Germany's leading position in SAR technology and science in Europe
  • Improving broadband access (higher data rate as well as availability) through new approaches to satellite communications, in particular using optical technologies for data transmission to, from and between satellites
  • Studying the planets, asteroids and comets in the Solar System, and better assessing the potential danger of impacts on Earth from celestial bodies
  • Research for and development of reusable components for future launcher systems to secure independent European access to space
  • Validation of space transportation propulsion systems with 'green' propellants in a space environment and development of robotic systems for semi-autonomous to autonomous maintenance of satellites and infrastructure in space

Long-term goals of DLR space research

  • Continuous Earth observation of terrestrial change processes as a basis for research into environmental and climate change, including the use of in-house technology developments such as Tandem-L
  • Wide use of optical communication methods to ensure the continuous availability of high-quality data
  • Exploration of the Solar System, extrasolar planetary systems and search for extraterrestrial life through participation in international missions
  • Generation of fundamental and widely valid physical and physiological knowledge that is also applicable to astronautical presence in space
  • Development of technologies to increase the resilience of space systems and the removal of hazardous objects from orbit
  • Technology development of an early warning system for threats from space
  • Analysis and testing of space propulsion components, including reusable components, environmentally compatible propellants and the further development of test stands for rocket engines
  • Development of robots or robotic components for routine use in low-Earth orbit and exploration missions

Space research enables us to build knowledge for tomorrow and develop a new generation of technologies. Innovations and the transfer of technology from space research to terrestrial use are fundamental goals. Only the combination of fundamental research and applied research makes it possible to align our goals with wider societal benefits and needs. DLR has the capability to systematically design and understand complex scenarios and is able to successfully carry out many large and highly complex projects in parallel over long periods of time effectively and cost-efficiently.

With this systems expertise and leadership competence in space research, DLR is a central player for studying Earth and the cosmic environment. This activity requires further research and development on intelligent sensor systems in space, new satellite systems and constellations, new robotic technologies, highly sophisticated ground infrastructure, powerful evaluation algorithms and concepts for archiving and distributing vast amounts of data.

DLR's space research portfolio covers the entire system chain, from the development of scientific and technological fundamentals to applications, across more than 20 institutes. In addition to generating new knowledge and establishing new scientific foundations, DLR is also an indispensable partner to the space industry.

Humankind's development of space flight has given rise to Earth observation as a new discipline focussed on our planet's atmosphere and environment. With the aid of satellite data, scientists can analyse many aspects of the environment that cannot be studied using traditional ground-based methods. Solving global problems requires a global perspective; the hole in the Ozone Layer, the 'Greenhouse Effect', pollution in the oceans and many other environmental issues can only be investigated thoroughly from space. Space-based environmental monitoring is crucial for developing comprehensive solutions.

Programme topics


Susann Groß

Head of Programme Space R&D
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Programme Space R&D
Hansestraße 115, 51149 Cologne