TAEM interview with Klaus Steinberg of Germany’s DLR Space Administration

Klaus-Steinberg_formal_kTAEM- As  the Science Section ofour publication, The Arts and Entertainment Magazine, leaps forward we have been contacting many scientists and space programs from around the world to give our student readers the best available information toward their education. Germany’s DLR Space Administration, a member of the European Space Agency, was high on our list. Our magazine received a supportive ‘Yes’ from Germany, and Klaus Steinberg quickly responded to our request.

Klaus, you are responsible for the German part in the General Support Technology Program (GSTP). Tell us about your role in that and what the program’s aims are.

KS- Thank you for the opportunity to tell your readers a little bit about my work. To start, I would like to shortly comment on how Space research is organized at DLR. In principle, the German Aerospace Center DLR is organized like other space agencies as NASA, but there is one specialty. There are about 7,300 people working for DLR, but only about 200 of them are part of the space Agency, formally known as Space Administration.

All the other employees are R&D oriented, similar to universities or research institutes, while the Agency manages Germany’s fund spending concerning space activities. Germany spends about 1.531 Billion US Dollars per year for space. About 65 percent from that is going to European Space Agency ESA. Germany is a member state of ESA and its biggest contributor. Therefore, as the investments and the policy of ESA are managed via Boards and Committees, we send national delegates to these boards. I am one of these delegates, being responsible i.e. for themes regarding Technologies and SSA. From the budget that Germany invests, a notable share is being put into ESA’s biggest optional technology development Program, named GSTP (General support and Technology Program). For the current and the next just starting 4-years phase of the program Germany has subscribed about 156 Million US-Dollar. That is not a self-evident amount of technology dedicated money for us Europeans, since our GSTP contribution is completely civilian funded. One of the GSTP’s aims is to secure all needed space technologies which we will utilize in future missions, and to support especially SME’s (small and medium entities) to be competitive within Europe and worldwide.

Curiosity-RoverTAEM- Please tell our student readers the importance of the program and what it means for research and space exploration.

KS- Being ESA’s largest inter-sectorial technology development program, the GSTP acts as a link between the basic mandatory Technology Research Program (TRP) which is funded from the ESA general budget, and the resulting space projects themselves (besides telecommunications, that program is called ARTES ). GSTP is the only major ESA technology program that covers every dimension of space technology. Its beneficiaries are guaranteed maximum funding with a 100 per cent rate of geographic return. It offers a wide range of individual grants to ensure that the right technologies are available at the right time at the required level of maturity. Each ESA member state decides for itself whether to participate in a tendering process. As mentioned, Delegations decide on a case-by-case basis whether there is a national interest and whether the required funding is available. About 625 Million US-Dollars is the total sum available for grants under GSTP Phase 6 so far. As ESA’s biggest contributor, Germany has a major say in the working plan and the resulting development of ESA technologies. The German contribution is planned in close consultation with national and other ESA funding programs, and will enable small companies to engage in R&D activities jointly with other European partners.

Chances will also be offered to SMEs that have never worked within an ESA context before. The GSTP is thus perfectly compatible with the German government’s strategic orientation, i.e. to make sustainable investments in a wide range of high-tech space-sector activities, in line with the government’s high-tech, broadband, sustainability, and space policies. The GSTP has led to the development of new solar cells, electric propulsion systems, sensors and semiconductors, and has thereby boosted German industry’s global competitiveness.

TAEM- You are also in charge of Space Situational Awareness (SSA). Please tell us about this program and of its aims and importance.

KS- Under the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) program, Europe is acquiring the capability to watch for objects and natural phenomena that could harm satellites in orbit or infrastructure – such as power grids – on the ground. To achieve this, ESA’s SSA Preparatory Program is focusing on three main areas:

SST – Space surveillance and tracking of objects in Earth orbit
Watching for active and inactive satellites, discarded launch stages and fragmentation debris that orbit the Earth.

SWE – Space weather
Monitoring conditions at the Sun and in the solar wind, and in Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere, that can affect space-borne and ground-based infrastructure or endanger human life or health.

NEO – Near-Earth objects
Detecting natural objects that can potentially impact Earth and cause damage.

In the now beginning second phase of the Program, the aim has been focused mostly on Space weather and NEO, while space surveillance, due to its dual use aspects, seems to be more a task of individual nations already having radar sensors, like France and Germany, may be in cooperation with the European Union.

TandemX-TerraSarXduo-satellitesTAEM- The DLR is also the center for aerospace, transportation, and energy for the Federal Republic of Germany. Please tell our readers about the various programs that your agency conducts for your country.

KS- As I told you, DLR possesses a heterogeneous structure. The DLR Space Administration is responsible to share the German funds in behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development and the Federal Ministry of Defense in spaceflight, space technology and astronautics.

For the R&D part of the DLR you are right. The DLR runs a lot of research projects in aerospace, transportation and energy. DLR owns the biggest civilian research aircraft fleet in Europe. The newest airplane is HALO (High Altitude and Long Range Research Aircraft). Its excellent performance, the new operating concept opens up new dimensions in environmental and climate research using aircraft in Germany and Europe. With its unique capabilities and features, HALO makes new experiments and larger payloads possible. The new operating model particularly encourages the participation of universities in atmospheric research using aircraft. The DLR airplane will be available for appropriate research programs anywhere in Europe. HALO reinforces Germany‘s leading position in atmospheric research and Earth observation.

Another DLR research airplane named Dassault Falcon 20E. It has been extensively modified for use in research by the DLR. The DLR flight facility in Oberpfaffenhofen primarily uses it for atmospheric research. International research teams measure trace gases and aerosols directly from on board the aircraft, and they collect air samples for subsequent laboratory analysis. It has been measuring the ash cloud after the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull which  disturbed the air traffic in Europe for days.

In the field of transportation, DLR runs a research project called Next Generation Train (NGT). How can rail transport be made safer, more efficient and environmentally friendly? How must the trains of tomorrow be designed? Rail transport researchers at DLR are addressing these questions. In the NGT project, researchers from nine DLR institutes are using an interdisciplinary approach to tackle the key questions of how the trains of the future can be made fast, safe, comfortable and environment-friendly.

In case of energy, DLR participates in the DESERTEC project. Cheap, safe and environmentally friendly electricity from concentrating solar power systems could meet about 15 percent of European power needs by 2050. With its survey of the availability of renewable energy sources for electricity production in the Europe/Middle East/North Africa region, EU-MENA for short, the DLR Institute of Technical Thermodynamics has supplied the scientific foundation for the DESERTEC project. DESERTEC will use solar-thermal power plants in Earth’s Sun Belt to generate climate-friendly electricity for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

Comet-WestTAEM- We understand that DLR also is involved with a wide range of research and development for projects on not only the national level, but on the international level of partnerships. Please tell us about some of these.

KS- On national level, DLR Space Administration works closely with research institutes and the national space industry to realize small and medium space missions like the DEOS project: A service satellite captures an uncontrollable satellite in space, repairs or refuels it and, at the end of the mission, ensures that the defective satellite is disposed of in a controlled manner. Something that sounds like science fiction is now a step closer to reality. This mission should reduce space debris – a main problem for space flight.

For huge international space projects Germany participates as the largest stakeholder in the European Space Agency ESA or works on bilateral cooperation with NASA, JAXA and Roskosmos. With funds of round about 13 billion US Dollars, ESA coordinates the interests of her 20 member states and realizes big, medium and small space projects. In the case of bilateral projects, DLR works closely for example with NASA. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) – also known as ‘Curiosity’ – has landed on April 6, 2012, on the Martian surface. On board the rover carries ten instruments on board to gather information about how hostile to or favorable for life the Red Planet was in the past – and might be for future manned missions. DLR is part of the team that is sending a Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) to Mars. The objective is to measure radiation levels at the Martian surface for the first time ever, thereby establishing the potential radiation dose for future astronauts and determining the depth below the surface at which living organisms might be able to survive.

But the R&D institutes of DLR cooperate also with international partners. After the successful landing of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, NASA has selected one more lander mission to Mars. The InSight mission will reach Mars in September 2016, after a six-month journey; it has been designed to take a ‘look’ into the deep interior of the Red Planet; it will do this with geophysical experiments including DLR’s HP3, which will penetrate several metres into the Martian subsurface to measure the soil’s thermo-physical and electrical properties. InSight stands for ‘Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport’. The mission name clearly explains that geophysical experiments are conducted on and underneath the Martian surface; for example, measuring the velocity of seismic waves or the heat flow. One of the aims of the mission is to understand the structure and state of the core and crust, as well as the thermal evolution of Mars. The HP3 experiment for the InSight mission was developed at DLR. HP3 is short for ‘Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package’.

TAEM- Please inform our student readers about the Terra SAR-X satellite.

KS- The main objective of the satellite duo TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X is to generate an accurate three-dimensional image of Earth that is homogeneous in quality and unprecedented in accuracy. Orbiting Earth at an altitude of around 500 kilometers, two nearly identical radar satellites have begun mapping its surface. The first of the two, TerraSAR-X, has been operating since 2007. Three years on, TanDEM-X, its twin satellite, has joined it. Both are equipped with a powerful modern radar system called Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). It permits observing the earth’s surface not only in daylight but also when it is obscured by darkness and/or clouds.

Comparison-of-Earth-and-CeresFlying in close formation, only a few hundred meters apart, the two satellites are imaging the terrain below them simultaneously, from different angles. Like the two eyes that enable people to see in three dimensions, its two antennas make TanDEM-X the first-ever system capable of generating a three-dimensional elevation model of the entire surface of the earth. These images are processed into accurate elevation maps with a 12-metre resolution and a vertical accuracy better than two meters. What is more, the two satellites will be the first configurable SAR interferometer in space. In bi-static operation, one of the two satellites will emit radar signals while the backscatter from the earth’s surface will be received by both. To cover the entire globe, three years of parallel operation will be required, with the satellites flying in formation. Within this period, the satellite tandem may survey the earth’s entire land surface of 150 Million square kilometers. The data volume generated in the process, approximately 1.5 petabyte, beats anything that has ever been recorded before. If it was transferred to DVDs and the disks were stacked up, they would form a column more than 430 meters in height – 100 meters higher than the Eiffel tower. Like the TerraSAR-X mission, TanDEM-X is a project developed under a public-private partnership between the DLR and Astrium GmbH based in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

TAEM- Many countries have astronauts in various programs. Tell us about Germany’s astronauts and the tasks that they have been involved with.

KS- In the history of German spaceflight ten astronauts have participated in 14 missions. The first German cosmonaut in space was Sigmund Jähn. In August 1978, Jähn started for the German Democratic Republic (DDR) to the Russian space station Saljut 6. During his mission, Jähn had to run several physical, medical and biological experiments to inquire the influence of microgravity, cosmic radiation and vacuum. The astronaut with the longest overall duration time in space of all German astronauts has been Thomas Reiter. He stayed for 350 days in space. One of his famous trips was the German-Russian mission Euromir at the Russian Space Station Mir in September 1995 and the Astrolab mission in July 2006 as the first stay of a German astronaut at the International Space Station ISS. There have been some further highlights in German astronautics like the D1 and D2 missions with the German-built space laboratory called Spacelab. Spacelab was a module integrated in the US-American Space Shuttle. In October 1985, the astronauts Reinhard Furrer and Ernst Messerschmid represented Germany in the D1 mission (STS-61-A). In April 1993, Hans Schlegel and Ulrich Walter started in the D2 mission (STS-55) . All of the German astronauts participated in the D1 and D2 missions had to run several experiments in the special fields of physics, material science, medicine and biology. Furthermore in February 2008, Hans Schlegel started to an important mission for European spaceflight. He was one of the astronauts, which have installed the European research module Columbus at ISS. In May 2014, presumably the tenth German astronaut Alexander Gerst will  run his mission at ISS.

TAEM- We also understand that DLR is also involved with the studies of asteroids and comets. Please tell us about these projects.

KS- DLR Space Administration takes care of space objects also including asteroids. In the case of a potential danger the new established Space Situational Awareness Center issues warnings to the German ministries involved or computes evasion scenarios – a job that is becoming ever more important in our times of increased space debris.

DLRlogoOne international project, in which DLR is involved is the Rosetta mission. The Rosetta mission, being undertaken by ESA, aims to research the history of how our Solar System was formed by investigating one of the oldest and most primordial of heavenly bodies, a comet. Rosetta is the first mission to land on and explore a comet in close proximity over an extended period of time. This mission is intended to help scientists learn more about the origins and development of our Solar System and, in the process, to learn more about our own origins. The mission consists of one orbiter and the Philae lander. DLR played a major role in building the lander and runs the lander control center which is preparing for and overseeing the difficult task of landing on the comet, a feat never before accomplished.

A further asteroid mission is Dawn –the ninth mission in NASA’s Discovery program. Dawn was launched en route to the asteroids Vesta and Ceres on 27 September 2007. These are the most massive objects in the Main Asteroid Belt, and the last of the larger ‘unknown’ bodies of the inner Solar System. Ceres, with a diameter of about 950 kilometers, is the largest known object in the Main Asteroid Belt. Dawn is partly funded by DLR Space Administration and carries a German camera system whose development and construction was coordinated by the Max Planck Institute of Solar System Research (MPS), in cooperation with the DLR Institute of Planetary Research. This camera is not only used for mapping and investigating the asteroids, but is also essential for the spacecraft’s navigation. The mission is coordinated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is also a department of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The University of California in Los Angeles is responsible for the scientific part of the mission. The camera system on board the spacecraft was developed and built under the leadership of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, in collaboration with the Institute of Planetary Research at DLR in Berlin and the Institute for Data Technology and Communication Networks in Braunschweig. The camera project is financially supported by the Max Planck Society, DLR and NASA/JPL.

TAEM- Please describe the projects that you have been involved with personally and share the pride with us about their success.

KS- Oh well, one of the first and very successful projects together with NASA where I was involved was the so called Roentgen Satellite (ROSAT), a scientific Project. ROSAT was designed to be launched on the Space Shuttle, but after the Challenger accident it had to be modified for a Delta-2. So our team had the unique opportunity to work for nearly 6 month at Cape Canaveral, when the satellite was mounted on top of the rocket. That launch campaign was a very interesting experience and gave me a lot of insight view, which was helpful for later projects, like the free flying Astrospas-ORFEUS-Telescope, which was  repeatedly passenger on board of a Space Shuttle. Nowadays I sometimes feel a little pity for our young colleagues, which not all may have the chance to work at the technology frontier in a project team, and to experience live on-site a rocket launch with “your” satellite sitting on top.  Therefore, if you ever plan to work in the space business as an engineer perhaps try not to start your career in a programmatic or financial division; instead go and be a member of a project-team, to see and feel the fascination of what is called space exploration.  You won’t forget that for the rest of your life.

TAEM- Klaus, we want to thank you for your interview in our publication and for allowing so many of our student readers, and science enthusiasts, to learn about the many involvements that DLR, and Germany, have made to contribute to mankind’s understanding of the cosmos. The cooperation that all countries share in this desire to learn about our planet, and its place in the universe, is very important to all of us.