DLR Opens Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensors in Hanover

Bose-Einstein condensate in Cold Atoms Lab icon image. (Credit: NASA)
  • The DLR Institute of Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensors mainly researches quantum technologies.
  • Areas of application are in space travel, earth observation, navigation and sensors.
  • The DLR institute was officially opened on May 30, 2022.
  • Focus: space travel, quantum technologies

HANOVER, Germany (DLR PR) — Navigation accurate to the centimeter, a tap-proof Internet or autonomous control of vehicles without a radio connection – the promise of new instruments based on quantum mechanical processes and methods. The Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensors at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Hanover is developing such technologies. On May 30, 2022, the institute was officially opened. In the future, around 100 employees will work in six departments at the Hanover and Bremen locations.

Quantum technologies will change the world

“Quantum technologies will change the world dramatically,” said Prof. Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, CEO of DLR at the opening, “With satellite-based satellite geodesy and inertial sensors, it will be possible for us in the future to observe climate change, measure mass changes in the ice masses and to draw conclusions about the budget of the groundwater.”

Inauguration of the new DLR Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensors. (Credit: DLR)

Solving socially relevant challenges such as climate change, water resources, energy supply, digitization, future mobility and security will benefit from innovations in quantum technology and quantum sensors. The same applies to future space missions. Quantum metrology and the closely related quantum sensor technology will set new precision standards and open up new fields of application whose potential, for example for future autonomous systems, is not yet foreseeable. Satellites modernized with quantum technology and innovative new satellite concepts will be orders of magnitude more powerful than the current generation.

Quantum research strongly represented in Lower Saxony and Bremen

With the founding of the DLR Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensors in the summer of 2019, DLR created a good position to help control this development for solving social issues, also thanks to active technology transfer for Germany as a business location. Embedded in a renowned scientific and infrastructural environment in Hanover and Bremen, DLR will shape the transfer from basic quantum technological research, which is strongly represented here, to innovative applications together with industry.

System Earth – icon image. (Credit: DLR)

Quantum sensors also offer great potential for satellite-based earth observation, communication and navigation. Quantum properties (such as quantum mechanical entanglement and the superposition principle or methods of matter-wave interferometry) enable the development of novel, highly sensitive and safer sensors. Quantum sensors based on matter-wave interferometry make it possible to measure rotation and acceleration with unprecedented long-term stability and can be used, for example, for flight stabilization and navigation. A further development of this technology promises future high-precision attitude control of satellites, for distance control in formation flights of a satellite swarm or for precise gravitational field measurements of the earth or other celestial bodies.

So-called optical atomic clocks with laser-cooled quantum gases offer orders of magnitude higher accuracy for future space-time terrestrial and space-based navigation systems. The new possibilities include relativistic geodesy (global geodetic height profiles with accuracy in the centimeter range), a secure Internet and complex network topologies.

An upcoming mission of the institute is the experiment BECCAL (Bose-Einstein-Condensate & Cold Atom Laboratory) that will be brought to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2026 . BECCAL is a joint project with NASA. This project, in which international research groups will carry out a variety of experiments in microgravity, is also a demonstration mission that will show the maturity and possibilities of this technology.

In the run-up to the founding of the institute, the state of Lower Saxony invested two million euros in the development planning of the institute and approved a further 17 million euros for the establishment of the institute. In the future, the institute will be funded with ten million euros annually from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (BMWK), 890,000 euros from funds from the state of Lower Saxony and 220,000 euros from funds from the state of Bremen.

Quotes:

  • Dr. Anna Christmann, Federal Government Coordinator for German Aerospace, Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection: “Quantum technologies are undoubtedly among the key technologies for solving the major challenges. Quantum-based technologies such as quantum sensors will be of considerable importance for Germany as a business location in the future, but also for overcoming the climate crisis. The new institute, in cooperation with the strong research locations in Hanover and Bremen, will serve the entire range of the value chain from the fundamentals of quantum physics to practical applications. The technology transfer processes at DLR play a key role in this.”
  • Björn Thümler, Minister for Science and Culture of the State of Lower Saxony: “Research into the quantum sciences with their phenomena and methods will be one of the most important drivers for innovations, new technologies and future economic growth. The search for solutions to socially relevant challenges – such as climate change, water resources, energy supply, digitization, mobility and security – will benefit significantly from new findings in quantum technology and quantum sensors, which the DLR Institute in Hanover is striving for. Innovations in quantum science will also open up new perspectives in future space missions.”
  • Claudia Schilling, Senator for Science and Ports and Senator for Justice and Constitution of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen: “Bremen has an excellent research landscape and is also ideally positioned in space research with ZARM, the DLR Institute of Space Systems and the drop tower. There are also well-known industrial companies that have excellent international credentials in this area, such as the Airbus Group or OHB SE. For many years there has been excellent cooperation between research groups from Hanover and Bremen, who in the QUANTUS consortium played a key role in the development and testing of the world’s first space-suitable quantum sensors for gravimetry and inertial sensors. It was therefore a win-win situation for both sides that the new DLR Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensors is located at both locations. It is significant that researchers from both locations are now working with committees from the EU Commission, ESA and NASA on an equal footing with top international research institutions in order to bring the innovative solutions of satellite-based quantum sensors into space as soon as possible. The BECCAL project is an excellent example of this.”
  • Volker Epping, President of Leibniz Universität Hannover (LUH): “The DLR Institute in Hannover offers excellent synergies, for example with research in quantum technologies at Leibniz Universität. The strengths in both geodesy and basic research in quantum technology ideally complement the fields of application of quantum sensors, funded by the DLR Institute. This also increases the attractiveness for young researchers on both sides, not least due to the connection to space missions.”
  • Dr. Ronald Holzwarth, Managing Director, Menlo Systems GmbH: “The high-tech sector of the national economy has recognized the great potential of quantum technologies for Germany as a business location. The economy here is also in direct international competition, not only for the highly sought-after specialists, but also for access to know-how in the cutting-edge technology sector. The new DLR institute offers first-class links with industry, also to bring innovations from the field of quantum technologies and, in particular, quantum sensors to the market. In doing so, the DLR institute opens up the entire range of quantum physical methods and techniques for groundbreaking developments.”