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.

Measurement flights for climate research

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Between December 2015 and March 2016, researchers from DLR and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), along with other national and international partners, conducted a series of measurements above the Arctic Circle in order to investigate climate change and its effects on the polar atmosphere. The measurements were carried out using one of the world’s best-equipped research aircraft: the Gulfstream G550 HALO (High Altitude Long Range Research Aircraft). From their base at Kiruna in north Sweden, the climate researchers flew measurement flights with HALO throughout the Arctic winter in order to study “hitherto” insufficiently understood aspects of cloud physics in polar regions and trace gas transport.

Ozone has a particularly powerful effect on the climate in the tropopause region, the transitional layer between the troposphere and the stratosphere, which is located at an altitude from 8 to 16 kilometres. Due to the increase in carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, temperatures on the ground and in the troposphere are rising, whereas in the stratosphere they are decreasing.

Particularly in the Arctic this can lead to the increased formation of polar stratospheric clouds, which contribute to the depletion of the protective ozone layer. While a large ozone hole regularly forms above the Antarctic during spring in the southern hemisphere, ozone depletion in northern polar region usually is less severe. However, this was not the case in the winter of 2015/16, when an increased formation of stratospheric clouds contributed to a significant depletion of the ozone layer already evident at the beginning of March.

The HALO research aircraft is based on a joint initiative of German environmental and climate research institutions. HALO is funded by contributions from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Helmholtz Association, the Max Planck Society, the Leibniz Association, the Free State of Bavaria, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Forschungszentrum Jülich and the German Aerospace Center.

Autonomous landing at full speed

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

An unmanned, electric, autonomous aircraft travelling at 75 kilometres per hour lands gently on the roof of a moving car. For the first time, researchers at the DLR have successfully demonstrated technology developed for this purpose. The system is designed for civil applications in the fi elds of remote sensing and communication and could be applied to ultra-light solar-powered aircraft to supplement Earth observation efforts using conventional satellite systems. With its landing gear removed, the aircraft has signifi cantly increased payload capacity.

EU:CROPIS – fresh vegetables in space

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Astronauts travelling to the Moon or Mars would certainly welcome the addition of fresh food to their diet. This is why the Eu:CROPIS mission is planning to launch a satellite into space in 2017 that will operate two greenhouses under lunar and Martian gravitational conditions. On board, the C.R.O.P. (combined regenerative organic-food production) filter system developed by the DLR will convert synthetic urine into fertilizer for tomato plants. A second algae-based system will deliver oxygen and remove excess ammonia.

MASCOT – landing on an asteroid

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) has been on its way to the asteroid Ryugu (1999 JU3) since 3 December 2014. The lander is scheduled to reach its destination on board the Japanese Hayabusa 2 probe and touch down on the asteroid’s surface in 2018. It is equipped with a total of four measuring instruments: a radiometer, a camera, a spectrometer and a magnetometer. The mission will gather data from several locations on one asteroid for the fi rst time in history. To this end MASCOT will use an internal swing arm to hop from one location to the next.

Structural health monitoring detects damage to aircraft components

Carbon fibre reinforced polymers (CFRP) are increasingly being used in the construction aircraft to make them lighter, more comfortable and more economical. In order to make these aircraft even safer and facilitate their maintenance, the DLR has built a large aircraft component from CFRP. The fuselage section is equipped with integrated sensors that function like a nervous system, providing information about the extent and location of damage. The advantage offered by this system lies in the fact that defective parts do not have to be removed and extensively examined, which simplifies maintenance and repairs.

Quicker journeys with visual coupling

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Virtual coupling refers to a method by which trains are connected via wireless communication rather than physical links. This offers the advantage that passengers can reach their destinations in a shorter period of time without having to change trains. In addition, the capacity limits of railway lines can be increased without the need for additional infrastructure. In April 2016 DLR researchers tested such a system using two Frecciarossa high-speed trains provided by the Italian rail company Trenitalia. Over several nights they tested the communication between two trains with directional antennas fitted at the front on the rail link between Naples and Rome.

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