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Research Field Aeronautics, Space and Transport

Between February and March 2018, a total of 75 international scientists and representatives from industry evaluated the research activities of the Helmholtz Association in the research field Aeronautics, Space and Transport, which receive long-term basic funding from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi) and the corresponding federal states. As the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is the only involved Helmholtz center in the three research programs, each of the assessments took place for several days at DLR sites in Braunschweig and Oberpfaffenhofen. The panels evaluated the quality of the scientific results of the research field within the current funding period from 2014 to 2018 and compared it to leading international organizations. 

The evaluations confirmed leading global research activities with a broad range of topics and a number of unique research infrastructures. With this setup, DLR recognized as unique organization in Europe. The outstanding research activities include the interdisciplinary project "Digital-X" in the Aeronautics program, earth observation and in particular radar and SAR technologies being part of the Space program or the safety research for highly automated driving in the Transport program, to name a few. In addition to application-oriented knowhow, comprehensive skills in modeling and simulation, in measurement methods or in handling large amounts of data are available at DLR. These are the basis for excellent research work, for example in the field of aerodynamics, for the evaluation of satellite data for monitoring climate change and traffic flows or for satellite-based communication technologies. The strengthening of interdisciplinary cooperation has been clearly visible since the last evaluation and has been acknowledged accordingly. 

Moreover, the systemic research approach covering the entire innovation chain was highlighted. Examples include the verification of research results in test environments or the deployment of technical instruments in international space missions. As an operator of research aircraft and earth observation satellites or in the field of atmospheric physics research, DLR acts as important partner for other Helmholtz Centers, for example in the research field Earth and Environment. In addition to the often leading participation in international missions (e.g. earth observation or space exploration), the broad participation in national and international bodies and commissions (e.g. ACARE, ESA, ERTRAC, ECTRI) was highlighted by the reviewers. The Helmholtz center often is the central scientific partner for business and politics, for example as a test environment for commercial rocket and turbine manufacturers or in research programs such as LuFo or PEGASUS. According to the experts, the research field proves impressive activities in technology transfer through patent applications and licenses. The numerous successful spin-offs, especially in the field of robotics, deserve special mention. 

Overall, the scientific evaluations confirmed a significant advancement of activities in the research field. In order to use this momentum, competencies in methods of artificial intelligence, cyber security and data sciences have to be expanded. The reviewers also saw the need to strengthen not only applied research but also basic research in order to generate innovative research approaches. In addition, an innovation fund could be used to conduct short term blue sky research during the upcoming funding period, delivering the basis for disruptive applications. Furthermore, the experts recommend to strengthen innovative research topics such as electric flight, unmanned aerial systems, space weather, sector coupling or autonomous driving and more generally to intensify cooperation with partners from science and industry, for example through exchange programs.

Margaux Köhler

Assistant Research and Controlling
Helmholtz Association

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