Space (2019 | Issue 1)

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The German space sector is the second-biggest in Europe. It is at the forefront of research, climate study and technological innovation. Germany’s space policy is oriented towards improving human life, ensuring sustainability and strong international cooperation. What’s Up, Germany? takes a look at this leader in space whose main aim is to address global challenges.

Going back to the beginning, Germany developed the first rocket that was capable of reaching space in 1942. The V-2 ballistic missile, designed by aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun during World War II, served as the blueprint for subsequent rockets. Thereafter, Germany began participating in space exploration through international collaboration. In 1969, with NASA’s cooperation, it successfully launched AZUR, its first research satellite, into space. Since then, there have been many achievements and collaborations.


Space technology features prominently in Germany’s High-Tech Strategy 2020. The idea is to use cutting-edge research and innovation (R&I) to benefit Earth. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)) is the country’s official space agency. It implements Germany’s space programme and also works with the European Space Agency (ESA) and other agencies across the world like NASA. With 8,000 employees at 20 locations across Germany, DLR works on national and international research and development projects, covering areas like Earth observation, space exploration, navigation, satellite communication, microgravity and robotics. The European Astronaut Centre located in Cologne trains European astronauts for their space missions. An interesting feature of the German space industry is the active involvement of highly competent small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing and making components.


Germany is the second-largest contributor to the European Space Agency (ESA). It prioritises funding European space activities over its own national programme. The reason is quite practical really: Many European countries pool their financial, scientific and human assets into the ESA, rather than go it alone! In 2019, Germany will cover 22.2 percent of ESA’s budget—€927 million, to be precise. A part of this contribution goes to the International Space Station (ISS), the largest space station in the world built by 16 countries. Beyond finances, Germany is actively involved in European space activities: the science laboratory Columbus on the ISS, the Galileo global satellite navigation system, the Ariane 6 launcher and various space missions, including Mars Express and ExoMars. It developed the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) for Mars Express, which can take really high-res images in true colour and in 3D. That’s just one of the many cool technologies DLR has developed for space missions!


Germany has launched several telecommunication, Earth observation and navigation satellites. As a matter of fact, it is a world leader in Earth observation. The TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X radar satellites are dedicated solely for this purpose. They provide highly accurate three-dimensional images of Earth, surpassing what was previously available. Between 2010 and 2015, the twin satellites transmitted 500 terabytes of data! More than 1,000 scientists around the world are using this data for their research. DLR has also launched the FireBIRD mission to detect forest fires and Eu:CROPIS, a life science satellite, to investigate the possibility of growing plants in different levels of gravity on Mars and the moon. This could be a real game changer!