Research Field Aeronautics, Space and Transport

Mobility, information, communication, managing the resources as well as environment and security are decisive factors for the economic, ecological and social development of modern national economics.

Insights into Research Field Aeronautics, Space and Transport

Here, we present projects currently being carried out by scientists at the Helmholtz Centres.

Test flights to ascertain the impact of biofuels on the atmosphere and climate

In January and February 2018, the skies over Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in northern Germany were the site of one-ofa-kind test flights. These consisted of an airborne chase to gather research data. The aim was to study the emissions produced by alternative fuels and their impact on the formation of clouds from contrails – and therefore their effect on climate. This project marked the first time that DLR and NASA conducted joint test flights in Germany.

DLR’s A320 ATRA (Advanced Technology Research Aircraft) flew with various fuel mixtures, while NASA’s DC-8 “flying lab” pursued it and was immersed in the ATRA’s exhaust stream. A wide range of measuring devices from DLR were on board the NASA aircraft: These were used to precisely measure the size distribution of soot and ice particles as well as the gaseous emissions in the ATRA’s wake. The researchers were particularly interested in seeing how the soot emissions from the various fuels affected the formation of contrails. The first DLR/NASA flights conducted in 2014 in Palmdale, California, showed that adding 50 percent alternative fuel for cruising flight reduces the soot particle emissions of an aircraft engine by 40 to 60 percent compared to the combustion of pure kerosene. Special fuel blends with a 30 to 50 percent share of added HEFA were produced for the three-week flight campaign, which involved eight flights from Ramstein Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate in 2018.

HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) is a biofuel derived primarily from the oil of camelina plants and was used as an example of alternative fuels, which could also be synthetic. Because HEFA contains no cyclic hydrocarbons, the formation of soot is reduced during combustion. This suggests that the number of ice crystals in contrails would decrease accordingly, thereby resulting in the formation of fewer cirrus clouds as well. The warming effect these cirrus clouds have on the Earth’s atmosphere is likely to be greater than a local cooling effect depending on the position of the Sun and the characteristics of the ground. The evaluation of the results at the end of 2018 will shed light on the effect of biofuels on contrails, which is essential for assessing the climatic impact of aviation.


Taking the load off cities

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Researchers at DLR investigate how cargo bikes can relieve motorized traffic in urban areas as part of the "Ich entlaste Städte" ("Taking the load off cities") mobility project being conducted across Germany until 2019. Based on questionnaires and analyses of cycle trips, the team wants to provide evidence that cargo bikes are suitable for everyday use. Several hundred companies and institutions that use the cargo bikes for commercial transportation purposes participate in the project. The project began in September 2017 and is capable of covering a broad range of transport requirements thanks to 17 different models thus far.


Hammering down into the depths of mars

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

On May 5, 2018, NASA launched the InSight probe, an exploratory mission designed to study the interior of the planet Mars. DLR contributes to one of the three main experiments by providing the HP3, a small hammering probe. After InSight landed on 26 November 2018, the HP3 will hammer into Mars’ soil to a depth of five meters and measure the temperature and thermal conductivity at various depths. This resource-saving key technology developed by DLR is already being used in road construction in China, for agricultural applications in Poland, and avalanche surveillance in Switzerland.


Basic technologies for autonomous inland navigation

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Researchers from DLR covered 20 kilometers and passed 12 bridges as they traveled along the River Main on the MS Jenny on March 22, 2018. The voyage on the inland vessel was testing a new assistance system developed in the course of a joint project called LAESSI. The system includes track control and mooring assistance features, a bridge warning function, as well as a conning display. These features are provided based on the highly accurate determination of the ship’s position, height, and direction via satellite navigation.


Horizons – knowledge for health, environment, and industry

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

On June 6, 2018, Alexander Gerst embarked on his journey to the ISS, where he carried out the “Horizons – Knowledge for Tomorrow” mission. His agenda included 151 experiments related to health, environment, and climate. Fifty of these experiments were set up by German institutions, including many from DLR. In addition to a smart astronaut assistant on board, a robot back on earth is waited for incoming commands from the team up in space and completed tasks autonomously. Research into aerogels and plasmas will support technological advances in industry.


Synchronous production of lightweight wings

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Lightweight – and therefore fuel-saving – wings made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) are already being used in the quiet and fuelefficient Airbus A350. But their production is still very time-consuming, because only one robot laying unit stacks carbon fibers layer by layer until a wing shell is formed. As part of the joint project EWiMa (Efficient Wing Cover Manufacturing), scientists at DLR demonstrated how two robots working in parallel without colliding could halve the production time.


Moment of truth for mascot asteroid lander

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

The MASCOT asteroid lander became active in 2018. After the Japanese space probe Hayabusa 2 landed on Ryugu on 3 October 2018, the small lander, whose development was coordinated by DLR, examined the asteroid using four observation devices and a hopping mechanism to move around. Hayabusa 2 is scheduled to return to Earth with probes at the end of 2020. The goal of the mission is to learn more about the development of our solar system. Asteroids offer a glimpse into the history of the cosmos.

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