Currently, research activities within the eight key topics Aerospace Communications and Navigation, Autonomous Flight, Aviation Management, Cyber & Public Security, Earth Observation, Green Aerospace, Safety in Orbit and Urban Air Mobility can be supported. Scientific activities within Munich Aerospace should always be related to the overarching theme of Digitisation.
The possibilities for adaptation and implementation of unmanned flight systems have grown enormously, driven by rapid improvements in areas of technology outside of aerospace. Whereas only a few years ago, unmanned aircraft were still exotic specimens resulting from research efforts devoid of practical applications, today several possibilities for use have become imaginable. The absence of humans on board gives rise to numerous new possibilities, but also to challenges.
Thus, in order to apply unmanned flight systems to realistic tasks, a number of issues in aeronautics must be dealt with. Due to the special nature of flying, it is not possible to shut down operation of any aircraft that is heavier than air, because this would lead to a crash and thereby to possible loss of the aircraft as well as an immediate danger for persons and property on the ground.
A major goal of joint research efforts within the scope of this research topic is therefore to maximize safety, reliability, accessibility and integrity of unmanned flight systems by developing suitable architectures for flight, control, mission and safety systems. The driving factor here is how to deal with constraints. An important aspect of unmanned flight systems is the fact that they consist not only of aircraft, but also of the accompanying infrastructure on the ground and the data links between both components. Viewing the aircraft in isolation is therefore not very productive.
Because work on this key project is aimed at fulfilling defined missions, it is also important to optimize flight systems with respect to their configuration and architecture for the task at hand. Notably, unmanned systems offer a number of new degrees of freedom. In addition to the classical fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, there are also multi-rotor systems, hybrid concepts, innovative propulsion systems, etc. to be considered.
Any work on this topic requires close cooperation with neighboring disciplines – the evaluation of results from other areas can be very fruitful. However, due to the specific constraints on flying systems, for example safety aspects, the focus of research is on areas mainly relating to aeronautics. The forward-looking goals of this project involve pioneering work and offer a lot of potential, also for industries not connected with aerospace.
Safety in Orbit
Space-based services are a natural part of our everyday lives. These range from communication to navigation and on to provision of security and scientific data gained from remote sensing or from more basic space research. The increasing interconnection between space flight systems and their corresponding infrastructure, with numerous corresponding services and uses, makes it increasingly important to secure the availability and dependability of the entire system. Utilization of this system, consisting of the ground elements (control center and operations), transportation segment (rocket technology), space segment (satellite technology and payload), and the customer segment (services and applications), should also be optimized.
Munich Aerospace is almost ideally set up to provide the breadth required of the research spectrum. In the key project "Safety in Orbit", the partners examine various aspects that ensure reliability and a high degree of accessibility of space-based services. These include for instance the acquisition and removal of space junk and securing continual and autonomous operation of satellites, especially with respect to susceptibility to malfunction and failure related to cosmic radiation. The considerations are not limited to the space element, but include to the same degree aspects of access, resistance to malfunction (for example jamming, spoofing), authentication, encryption, and integrity of satellite signals for both communication and navigation.
The research conducted is an important contribution to ensuring that society will be able to continue to use and rely on the dependability of space-based services and applications in the future, even as systems become more and more complex. Such research efforts are in particular highly relevant for future security applications, for example satellite-based flight control, surveillance of crisis and regions struck by disaster, and protection of infrastructure and borders, because such applications require absolute data and signal continuity and reliability.
Germany and Europe operate satellites for geodetic observations of the Earth on a wide scale range (100km – 1mm), using various technologies and methods, ranging from gravity field determination by means of new satellite gravimetric processes, to surveying the deformation of individual buildings and infrastructure elements using high-definition interferometric and tomographic radar methods.
With the availability of the newest satellite generation (GOCE on the one hand, and TerraSAR-X and TanDEM-X on the other), the borders between the methods required have become blurred. Interferences of geometric (radar) methods contribute signals to gravimetric missions, and vice-versa. Pure surface deformation is complemented with an estimate of corresponding movements of mass. For example, volcanic deformations or shifts of ice masses can be determined from both gravity field anomalies and radar data, in various spatial and chronological resolutions. At the highest scale of resolution, geodetically measured objects require interpretation. Here, optical photogrammetric methods and their fusion with radar data provide solutions.
The goal of the research project under this key topic is to conceptually unify methods using various scales, apply them to other geodetic problems, thereby discovering new uses and developing new satellite mission concepts. Modeling errors, for example, those caused by the troposphere, by interpretation, by data fusion, and geodetic ground-truth validation are also part of the research.
This major research topic will flank the pertinent current and future German and European satellite missions with a solid research program. The results will be applicable to climate and solid Earth physics, predicting natural hazards, urban risk management, and urban planning.
Aerospace Communications and Navigation
Air and space travel are for various reasons crucially dependent on their communication capabilities. In air travel, safety and efficiency of air traffic are paramount. In unmanned aircraft, the loss of data links usually leads to an immediate abortion of the mission. Accordingly, new and robust systems are required that are conceived to be completely and multiply redundant. Even satellite components play an important role. Unmanned platforms are both potential means of transport of provisions to poorly accessible regions and means of arranging replacements and additional capacities in disaster zones and large events.
In near-Earth space, satellite communication is subjected to the challenge of increasingly higher speeds of data transfer. These speeds sometimes reach Tbits/s. Optical transmission methods seem to be predestined for creating space-based transmission networks. Transiting the atmosphere has its challenges. Its influences must be sufficiently understood and suitable anti-distortion methods must be developed. With respect to access and distribution, classic high frequency bandwidths will, in the long run, remain most useful because of clouds. This method of transmission will favor digitizing and a certain degree of processing. Promising methods span from beam shaping to network codification.
Space exploration ultimately requires receiving data at enormous distances. Here, too, optical communication is at the center of interest, due to its short wavelength and the correspondingly small transmission aperture. It is essential to achieve transmission efficiencies of several bits per photon. This requires robust synchronization and error-protection procedures.
This outlines the wide scope that will form the framework for research of the individual projects. The intent here is to also contribute to missions on DLR and TUM aircraft, as well as on German and European satellites.
The airport as an integral element of a functioning air transportation system faces great challenges in the context of ecological and economical sustainability as well as in changing political regulatory frameworks. As a result, the establishment of reliable evaluation capabilities in the context of airport architectures and solutions becomes more and more important. For example within the context of airports the evaluation of new approaches in the transfer between ground and air transport is especially important when it comes to securing efficiency, cost-reduction and a high quality of service.
The research group “Aviation Management” approaches the topic’s variety at three levels: At the strategic level, universal scenarios for a more robust preparation of decisions in dynamic and uncertain markets are developed that display the relevant intern and extern systemic factors. At the operational level, ground- and air-based processes of different air transportation stakeholders are analyzed, e.g. the handling of freight and passengers. At the technology-level, new technologies are rated in the framework of the identified future technical, economic and strategic conditions. It’s required that the developed solution concepts consider the results of the scenario analysis as well as the complexity of the interdependence within the air transportation system.
Both the aeronautics and space industries are currently subject to considerable technological changes resulting from increasing ecological awareness. Further reductions of greenhouse gases, pollutant emissions and noise and the renunciation of conventional fuels are planned as part of minimising the ecological footprint. 'Green Aerospace' is the watchword for this trend manifesting in the areas of propulsion, energy, structures, manufacturing, operations and systems. The aviation industry in particular has set ambitious targets for itself: From 2020 onward the industry intends to achieve carbon-neutral growth despite a considerable increase in air traffic volume, which will mean reducing emissions to 50% of the 2005 level by the year 2050. To achieve this ambitious target, developing alternative fuel and energy sources is a necessity in addition to improving propulsion engines technologically and developing a new air traffic concept – for instance by choosing climate-optimised flight paths. The space travel industry still relies on the highly toxic propulsion fuel hydrazine but recent EU legislation has led to an increase in the production of alternative fuels and propulsion systems. Besides the positive ecological effects, these developments will eventually lead to independence from limited fossil commodities.
Cyber & Public Security
Public security in highly industrialised countries is currently undergoing great change. Energy black-outs, cyberspace attacks, international terrorism and climate change effects such as epidemics and pandemics have become the challenges of our time. Advancements in information and communication technologies (ICT) provide great opportunities for efficient communication in crisis situations such as disasters. The risks are becoming more and more apparent however with cyberattacks for example on the increase. Heightened danger is conceived in the trend toward networked devices and the highly dense critical infrastructure in such fields as aerospace, energy and water supply and healthcare. A holistic approach, a so-called 'system of systems', is necessary for early crisis identification, prevention and management. Our future cyber defence systems will in some areas require integrated cyber security solutions comprising innovative coding methods and watertight testing and verification procedures. ICT is the key technology in and innovation driver behind such solutions which will be permeating all areas of modern society. Mastering this technology is vital for a successful preventative security und crisis management.
Urban Air Mobility
Rapid developments in non-aerospace technology such as electric drives, sensors, communication and data sciences result in a wide range of aircraft configurations and operational concepts so as to meet the requirements for Urban Air Mobility.
To enable the novel traffic concept Urban Air Mobility (UAM), certain key research issues have to be resolved:
- Maturity of technology (in terms of safety, reliability, noise, emissions, operating cost);
- operational viability (business model, reliability, competitive standing against other modes of transport, integration into the urban environment);
- regulatory sign-off (safety, airspace and ground capacity, backing by local authorities);
- acceptance by the public (noise, emissions, visual impressions, operating cost, development of infrastructure);
- further development of necessary key technologies (flight control, automation and artificial intelligence, trajectory management, sense and avoid, HMI, assistance systems, energy and propulsion systems, lightweight design).
Most of these issues are far beyond anything we had to deal with so far be it in aviation in general or with regard to any single aircraft. It is therefore a major goal of joint research efforts to render possible cutting-edge aircraft concepts while focusing particularly on minimising noise and energy consumption, developing airspace integration concepts, understanding and highlighting advantages of UAM with regard to urban traffic systems and inciting general public acceptance of these novel applications. Sparked by the rise of urban initiatives and innovative enterprises entering the air transport market, it is intended to intensify information sharing and co-operation on regional, national and international levels.
The overarching theme of Digitisation
More efficient air traffic operations and aircraft, faster development cycles, networked and adaptive production as well as more cost-efficient maintenance are just a few examples of how important digitisation in aerospace will become in the field of research and technology but also for novel business models.
Digitisation also opens up opportunities for globally networked and adaptive industrial manufacturing (Industry 4.0). Unprecedented possibilities arise for shortening development times and cutting cost. Novel materials, processes and aircraft are created in virtual research processes and with the help of “digital twins”, providing early optimisation opportunities. 3D printers will assume particular importance in manufacturing many structures for aircraft and spacecraft due to topological optimisation processes, resulting in faster, easier and possibly even more cost-effective production.
What is more, digital technologies make condition-based maintenance possible. Sensors on propulsion engines or structural components for instance monitor important parameters and detect possible maintenance requirements. The systems collect data even during flight and transmit these to the ground crew.
Thanks to a combination of computer and communication sciences, it is also possible to interlink data streams using satellites in particular, thus enabling an unprecedented number of digitisation applications. Not only will it become possible distributing data streams globally but also interlinking them.
Based on these novel interfaces between man, machine and cutting edge information and communication technologies new dynamic and self-organising cross-company value chain networks will emerge. The economic importance of this development cannot be overstated, its key position supported by Bavarian and federal government funding policies.
Munich Aerospace has recognised digitisation as an overarching theme spanning all modern research areas and has thus decided to help shape technical and scientific development in the aviation and space sector through its member institutions and know-how.