The Institute of Space Systems is concerned with space technology.

Space technology is concerned with the orbital mechanics of satellites in medium Earth orbit. The research focuses on the exact calculation of satellite orbits, taking into account all the disturbing forces, predicting the path and the reentry of small satellites as well as the simulation of the formation and distribution of space debris (Space Debris) including the detection of object distribution densities for satellites, rocket stages and debris in near-Earth space.

Research Portfolio at the Institute of Space Systems

The aim of the Space Debris workgroup is to support sustainable space flight. Basis for all activities is the knowledge and application of general and higher orbital mechanics. The main research consists of the orbital dynamics of all objects on Earth orbits (space debris), orbit survey and orbit prediction, especially for light satellites and the re-entry of hazardous objects. The Space Debris workgroup belongs to the leading experts in the field of Space Debris modelling. These research activities are applied in several domains:

Space Debris Modelling
-    Modelling of individual sources: explosion- and collision fragments, solid  rocket motor dust and slag, NaK coolant droplets, ejecta, paint and MLI degradation, micrometeoroids
-    Simulation of fragmentation events: estimation and prediction of time-invariant and spatial distribution of objects on arbitrary orbits

Space Debris long term analyses
-    Projecting the evolution of the future space debris environment
-    Analyses of Space Debris mitigation techniques on the future environment
-    Analyses of cascade effects due to collisions
-    Impact of large constellations and small satellites on the long-term evolution

Space Debris cost-benefit-analysis
-    Safety precautions for active satellites
-    Economics of debris mitigation techniques

Space Debris risk analyses
-    Particle flux analyses on satellite surfaces
-    Analyses of penetration- and failure-probability

Space Debris observation
-    Design of optical sensors and radars (monostatic, bistatic, phased array)
-    Scheduling of measurement campaigns

Space Surveillance and Tracking System simulation
-    Simulation of observation campaigns
-    Performance analysis of single sensors and sensor networks
-    Simulating cataloguing of space debris objects with different orbit determination methods, sensors, etc.

Space technology education:
-    Lectures, exercises, laboratories: Fundamentals of space technology, perturbated orbits, satellite techniques, space debris, manned spaceflight, mentoring and supervision of graduating students (MA/BA theses)
The activities are accompanied by re-entry predictions of hazardous objects and simulating observations of Near Earth Objects.
Members of the Space Debris workgroup are delegates for the German Aerospace Center to the Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee (IADC).

AG Satellite Technology

The workgroup satellite technology was founded in the course of the restructuring of the Institute of Space Systems. The Satellite Technology group examines the active removal of space debris. The main research areas include:

  • Orbit and attitude control of spacecraft
  • Docking with non-cooperative targets
  • Development, testing and operation of small satellites
  • Development of novel docking mechanisms

In the long term, the group plans the development of small satellites for on-orbit testing and verification of research results. For this purpose, the necessary infrastructure consisting of a satellite integration room and a ground station for communication is being established.

New mission concepts for the implementation of "Active Debris Removal" are designed. In particular, uncooperative targets such as tumbling rocket upper stages are considered. These are to be stabilized via the docking of a servicer and thus prepared for a controlled re-entry. The focus here lies particularly on the multibody dynamics and attitude control in space.

A docking mechanism for the servicer is under development on the basis of biologically inspired materials. Mechanisms based on adhesive bionic materials which mimic the properties of gecko feet are investigated.

To validate the docking mechanism, as well as navigation techniques, a test environment is set up consisting of an air-bearing table, a robotic arm and several testing bodies (simulated experimental satellites). It is noteworthy that the experimental satellites do not require separate supply of compressed gas and thus long-term simulations are possible.


AG New Systems and Technology 

The workgroup „New Systems and Technologies” studies manned and unmanned exploration of space beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Current focus is on the development of key technologies to support the construction of a future international lunar base and the utilization of space near the Moon.

The main research areas of the group are:

  • Propulsion systems for small satellites and space probes: Investigation and development of innovative propulsion concepts for cost-effective and flexible CubeSat missions beyond Low Earth Orbit. These propulsion systems shall allow high velocity changes, for example for self-propelled trajectories to the Moon or adjustments of orbital parameters.
  • Utilization of local resources: In-Space Resource Utilization (ISRU), such as processing the regolith of the lunar surface, enables substantial reductions of transport costs and a more flexible expansion of infrastructures on other planetary bodies without supply from Earth. The group develops processes and technologies, such as methods for additive manufacturing of structures from local mineral raw materials and for utilization of other resources, such as metals and water.
  • Lunar Science: The Moon itself represents a study subject for space sciences, but due to its unique features it is also an ideal location for scientific instruments and experiments such as telescopes. For these purposes, the group develops concepts for high-performance and cost effective science missions. The mission concepts build upon results from ISRU and propulsion research at the Institute of Space Systems.

The activities are integrated into the work of the institute`s other groups and into national and international research projects. That participation allows to take part in the creation of the global space exploration roadmap and the identification of state-of-the art research topics.