By Luisa Low
During this week’s Space Café, SpaceWatch.Global Publisher Torsten Kriening sat down – virtually – with Professor Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Centre – otherwise known simply as the abbreviated “DLR”.
A German materials scientist and mechanical engineer by trade, Professor Kaysser-Pyzalla has previously held positions at Ruhr University in Bochum, the Max-Planck Institute for Iron Research in Düsseldorf and the Helmholtz Centre for Materials and Energy in Berlin.
Having been appointed to her current position in the middle of the ‘corona-crisis’, during the past two years she has driven a programme of change, which has included a reshuffle of the organisation’s structure – including the creation of a ‘functional’ board, facilitating technology transfer, working more closely with industry, as well as bolstering synergies between previously disparate areas.
This week, she and Torsten discuss the centre’s focus on climate change, imagery, data, and small satellites.
Space for humanity
First and foremost, Professor Kaysser-Pyzalla is guided by the principle that space exists chiefly to aid humanity and the earth. This very principle is also the Centre’s ethos – and is applied through areas like climate change, the environment and humanitarian aid.
“Space actually is something which benefits the people on earth. And we see that as main point of our space research.”
“We have seen within the last year, that knowledge… has become really crucial for people in a crisis situation. And besides COVID crisis, we have the climate crisis.”
One area in which DLR assists is through the provision of information and data that is both unbiased but free from government or business interests.
“It’s really important to get unbiased information – information that’s not in any way was tricked by any governments anywhere – information that we all really can trust. And that’s really essential – that’s something which satellites for instance, can really deliver.”
Imagery, AI, data and small-sats offering myriad opportunities
While satellite imagery was once solely centred on basic geography and maps, satellites can now incorporate all kinds of resolution, providing information on a wide variety of areas. Small satellites in particular – according to Professor Kaysser-Pyzalla – are important for the community and universities looking to research new areas.
This explosion in image technology is leading to scientists better understanding the levels of CO2, methane and other pollutants chemicals in the atmosphere, as well as sensitively tracking changes in the earth’s atmosphere.
Under Professor Kaysser-Pyzalla’s watch, the Centre is also working more closely with other countries to better examine the impact of climate change on permafrost areas in Siberia.
“And so by being able to get a more global view, and then to go down to a more focused view, it’s going to be possible to identify visual sources of pollution.”
“We’re active in the observation of the ice melting phenomena in various parts of the earth… what I’ve learned is that you have glacier seas where the impact of climate change increases.”
Another key effort of Professor Kaysser-Pyzalla is DLR’s data archive, which is growing constantly with “phenomenal expansion”.
This expansion isn’t expected to slow down, either with Kasysser-Pyzalla projecting strong growth over the next two years thanks to upcoming missions, ever-growing data rates and improvements in AI and telecommunications technologies.
“It’s really important because then you really get idea about the evolution of various phenomena over time such as settlements and urbanisation.”
“And to do that really well, artificial intelligence becomes more and more important: it becomes more and more important in the interpretation of the various images.”
To listen to Professor Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla’s insights into the German space sector, you can watch the full program here:
Luisa Low is a freelance journalist and media adviser from Sydney, Australia. She currently manages Media and Public Relations for the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Engineering.