Space travel is all the rage. Germany is very much involved in scientific space research. Two billion Euros has been made available to the German Space Agency (DLR). But what does the economy and community get from it? How do space researchers help solve urgent problems on Earth? The DLR Chairman Prof. Dr. Pascale Ehrenfreund outlines this in the interview.
Professor Ehrenfreund, what is the purpose of the space agency?
With our scientific work we deliver important, innovative contributions in order to solve societal challenges and to achieve sustainable UN objectives. For example, we are helping to guarantee worldwide mobility in the future but at the same time lessening the burden on the environment.
Prof. Dr. Pascale Ehrenfreund
“Through our research, we are learning what we have to do to ensure man’s survival going forward.”
But what direct benefits can be expected for us on Earth?
The benefits for solving challenges on Earth are manifold. Just to name a few examples: there are research projects in the aerospace industry to reduce pollutants and noise emissions. We are working, among other things, on increasing air traffic efficiency by optimizing flight paths or through electric aircraft. Medical insights are coming from space travel. They are helping us manage problems in the ageing population like for example, with osteoporosis or with sense of balance. In addition, there are space robotics that are supposed to be deployed in the care sector.
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Do you have a concrete example by which logisticians will also benefit?
By way of example, navigation and satellite-based communication has its origins in the aerospace industry. Today, they are the foundation for all issues concerning mobility, for instance, for autonomous driving. With the European navigation satellite system, Galileo, it is possible to achieve even higher precision and speeds while transporting goods and tracking them. But for that it is also necessary to have high speed and bandwidth for signal transmission, whether on the ground or from space. All these things come from the DLR.
You are addressing an important topic: efficient transportation …
More and more people live in big cities ¬– and want to be mobile there. This results in enormous traffic volume in very limited space. We are investigating the systematic linkages between people’s mobility behavior, new mobility concepts, and the built-up environment, so the urban space. Basically, aerospace industry can be a tool to bring people and goods from A to B as fast as possible and in an environmentally and safe manner. But even the most modern and effective mode of transport can only play off its strengths if the system in which it operates is also effective and reliable.
You mean a traffic management system?
Right. An efficient system helps to prevent accidents, reduces wait times, and lowers noise and environmental pollution. For that we are considering both modal and intermodal concepts. As a foundation for that, information must be gathered about the current traffic conditions. In this way, we can generate simulations and prognoses to recommend a traffic management system. But we are also researching the effects of possible innovations, for example on the inner-city traffic and the air quality. So we are establishing an information base to set up a framework for freight traffic.
One of the most urgent issues of our time is climate change. How is the DLR contributing to understanding it and limiting its impacts?
Above all, Earth observation is helping us better understand system Earth. In this way we can draw conclusions on how we can deal with the consequences of climate change. Especially interesting are the interactions between man and his environment and the effects on the atmosphere or the biomass of our planet. The analysis and observation of system Earth is made by a large fleet of earth observation satellites that deploy radar and multispectral optical sensors. So we are learning through our research what we have to do to ensure man’s survival going forward.