After 7 years, the INNOspace Masters Highlight Conference on July 12 in Berlin took stock of innovation funding in the “New Space” sector: Over 1550 participants and nearly 700 idea submissions from 40 countries were received here since 2015/2016. This competition, organized by the German Space Agency DLR and industry partners, supports innovation and aims to promote ambitious and forward-looking ideas. Current trends in spaceflight were discussed by Dr. Anna Christmann, the German government’s space coordinator, Dr. Walther Pelzer, the DLR Agency’s Chief Space Officer, Geraldine Naja, ESA’s Director of Commercialization and Industrial Policy, and industry executives Andreas Lindenthal of Airbus and Dr. Lutz Bertling of OHB.
Among the finalists in the field of research institutes was the Center for Telematics (ZfT) from Würzburg, Germany, having already been the 1st prize winner in the 2017 Airbus Challenge on advanced production methods for small-scale satellite manufacturing. Its concept of a modular system to produce larger quantities of satellites in a modular and flexible way convinced the jury already then. In the years that followed, it was put into practice: the 4 NetSat satellites for formation flight in 3D were efficiently manufactured using this approach and launched into orbit in 2020. Further satellites followed and currently 24 more satellites will be realized in this way in Würzburg in the next 2 years.
Based on this preliminary work and success, the ZfT was selected in the nationwide competition for the “Small Satellites Research Factory” to set it up. Multi-satellite systems for telecommunication, earth observation and navigation are the area with the expected strongest growth in the space sector, but in Europe corresponding capacities for small series production to provide a corresponding number of satellites in a short time are not yet available. The concept, which won an award in the 2017 InnoSpaceMaster competition, uses advanced approaches to networked production in an Industrie 4.0 context. Transferability from industrial manufacturing to specific space requirements is therefore in demand. Here, the focus will be particularly on the close link between the integration of the components and the test concepts to guarantee high reliability, even under the very adverse space environment conditions. Different possible production technologies will be further developed and their performance compared in the research factory launched in 2022. While small satellites will initially be the focus of testing due to their short product cycles, the scalability and adaptability of larger small satellites will also be addressed. An advisory board with top-class members, including the leading space companies Airbus and OHB, as well as start-ups and medium-sized companies, is keeping an eye on the technology transfer possibilities of this research work. Attention is also paid here to the fact that the pollution of space must not be allowed to increase any further and that appropriate disposal concepts must be incorporated right from the construction of the satellite.
In joint projects with universities and industry, intensive technology transfer was carried out here to strengthen Germany as a space location. One result was the spin-off of S4 - Smart Small Satellites Systems GmbH by ZfT employees, which has since become one of the leading manufacturers of small satellites and components in Germany. For example, S4 GmbH prevailed in the Europe-wide competition for a telecommunications satellite and was awarded responsibility for the realization of LoLaSat by the European Space Agency ESA as prime contractor.