The green space - English

The green space

By Beatrice Bischof4.06.2021Europe

Recently, I was asked a question – when discussing the space industry: What does flight and space travel have to do with sustainability? A lot. I followed up on the question directly and was intrigued myself. By Beatrice Bischof.


“Space travel is gaining in importance due to climate change” said Professor Dr. Rolf Jürgen Ahlers from LR BW, Forum Luft und Raumfahrt Baden Württemberg. And Bavarian Minister President Markus Söder has also picked up the thread in 2018 with his “Bavaria one” space program, with which he wants to establish Bavaria as a leading center of German space activities. This includes the establishment of Europe’s largest aerospace faculty at TUM with 700 million euros. The focus is to be on satellites, earth observation, rocket technology and quantum sensor technology. The long-term strategy ranges from earth surveying to space start-ups.

It has long been known that satellite technology provides geoinformation for agriculture, for example, which, in combination with sensor technology in agricultural machinery, leads to efficiency gains.  The introduction of the European satellite navigation system Galileo will generate numerous new applications and optimize existing ones. In addition to agriculture and forestry, this also applies to surveying, disaster services or traffic guidance systems. One feature will be the high demand for qualified employees. An exciting development is also emerging in unmanned flight.

In this context, the reduction of CO2 emissions is a major issue for the entire aerospace industry, aircraft must become lighter and more efficient, the use of lightweight materials will increase, and, as in the automotive industry, the electrification of propulsion is also an issue.

The topic “greener aircraft” is an interdisciplinary topic, like the whole aerospace industry. It requires the combination of different technologies. Suppliers use their expertise from the automotive industry, the textile industry, medical technology, information and communications technology, and machine tool manufacturing to share knowledge. This knowledge flows into the development and production of new aircraft and satellites, and feeds back into them. New types of applications are created.

Applications such as those found in Airbus’ catalog of satellite technology. Satellites such as Pléiades Neo, a new optical satellite constellation. It provides space-based reconnaissance. This is a new branch of intelligence reconnaissance. Its goal is to obtain intelligence from the analysis of images and space-related information, geodata, about objects and events related to space and time, by definition.  In practical application, this means information based on surveillance enables timely informed decisions. In addition to the defense sector, this also applies to civil use in agriculture (forestry), the maritime sector, as well as the urban…and with high precision. This information can and is also used under the term “Sustainable Space”.  How this works? Satellite imagery is combined with AI and scoring or validation tools (validationboots). Again as an example in forestry, this is to provide an independent assessment basis to stop unnecessary deforestation. Startling, developed by Airbus and the Earth Worm Foundation, will monitor land use and deforestation. A separate division is dedicated to “Sustainable Space” at Airus.

In terms of climate, satellites are used to monitor climate change. Airbus is involved in the Earth observation satellite program of the European Space Agency (ESA), with its 12 Copernicus missions. Today, 27 of the satellites are involved in monitoring climate change, with an additional 10 under development.  The “satellite fleet” measures the following: major atmospheric constituents, land and ocean topography, air quality, temperature and humidity, snow and ice cover. Satellites provide scientists with a better understanding of the Earth system and its evolution, help governments and humanitarian organizations prepare for and manage emergencies, generate the environmental footprint of major industries.  Specifically, Aelus, for example, deals with the influence of wind patterns on a global scale, the Airbus satellite fleet provides geo-intelligence in optics including Pléiades and radar. Biomass will monitor CO2 captured from trees.  The spacecraft carries the first radar to produce quite exceptionally accurate maps of tropical, temperate and northern forest biomass that cannot be achieved with ground-based sensing. Copernicus and the Sentinel family are the largest provider of Earth observation data; Earth Care monitors the impact of clouds and small particles on Earth radiation. MetOp-SG contributes to meteorological forecasting via spectral and spatial measurements, Merlin is designed to study greenhouse gases and global warming by 2024, Microcarb measures the level of CO2 by using spectrometers to study visible and near-infrared wavelengths.

But it is not only in Europe and the United States that satellites are sent into space to monitor the environment. The United Arab Emirates, specifically Dubai, has also launched the DM SAT-1, the region’s first nanometric environmental satellite equipped with the latest environmental monitoring technology. It collects and analyzes climate data, measures pollution and greenhouse gases. As such, DM SAT-1 serves the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 and the UAE National Climate Change Plan 2017-2050, which underscores the country’s commitment under the Paris Agreement. The DM SAT-1 is equipped with a polarimeter and two spectrometers.  The goal is to develop long-term plans to combat climate change, information and data will be provided to monitor greenhouse gas emissions, and the share of CO2 emissions will also be calculated in terms of the gross national product of Dubai 2021. The environmental impact and effectiveness of the output of the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 will be studied to contribute to the national system for greenhouse gas emissions in the management of the Climate Change Plan 2017-2050.  Dubai is also betting big on aerospace with its mission to Mars and space program, as well as the Mohammed Bin Rashid Aerospace Hub, the largest integrated ecosystem of its kind in the aerospace sector.

To give it a boost, work is also underway on software-defined satellites and network solutions. Speed, flexibility and power at a fraction of the cost of hardware-defined spacecraft are said to be the benefits. The means: beam reconfiguration and generic satellites via software. In geostationary space, having the ability to renew and adjust the footprint and spectral power of a satellite that is expected to remain in space for 15 years is a “gamechanger.” Satellites in medium-range and near-range space benefit from the beam steering and shaping capabilities of software-defined satellites.  Lockhead Martin’s first software-defined satellite is moving into the preliminary testing phase in 2021.  SmartSat can use computer processing, Xavier, which uses payload data to modify missions in space.  Eutelsat Quantum, for example, will be the world’s first commercial telecommunications satellite that can reconfigure itself in space. It can change its surveillance area to meet customers’ requirements in different regions in real time. Customers can thus pick a specific route to track an aircraft or ship. This gives foreign missions more control to run simulations as well. Smart Sat from Lockhead Martin can reconfigure itself faster, make more accurate diagnoses, detect cyber threats autonomously faster. But the software-based satellites need more payload and the full platform more watts and excess capacity. Satellite communications will look more like telecommunications, with its networks and intermingling of links in the various expanses of space (LEO; GEO, MEO). This will require links between constellation satellites and the ground. Lockhead Martin proposes advances in AI and machine learning that will enable the smarter software defined satellites to communicate more effectively.

However, “Sustainable Space” also includes maintaining a sustainable overall situation in space as “traffic in space” increases, i.e., clearing space of space debris. This is achieved by technologies such as the Robotic Telescope, which uses tracking and monitoring to ensure that satellites and the International Space Station are protected from colliding with each other or with space debris. The “Space Harpoon”, which is fired with cold gas generators, is also designed to eliminate waste. The “Space net” captures the garbage and gets it out of space by leaving it, burning it in the process. An alternative GPS consisting of two 2D cameras and 3D LIDAR, light detection and marshalling, is to locate the garbage using image processing technology that is up to date with navigation algorithms. Space traffic management is a major concern as massive constellations increase. To that end, for example, Airbus is participating in a consortium called Space Sustainability Rating (SSR). It is a concept developed by the World Economic Forum that provides a score derived from the relationship of a mission’s sustainability to its waste emissions and alignment with international guidelines.

It also drives the decarbonization of the aviation industry. Aviation, with the goal of connecting people, is unfortunately responsible for 2, 5% of human-caused greenhouse gases. Therefore, reducing emissions from aircraft, satellites and launchers, as well as the industrial footprint, including supply chains, is necessary. In this regard, Airbus supports the goals of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized agency of the UN dedicated to promoting sustainable growth of the global civil aviation system. Core targets are, CO2 neutral growth from 2020, 50% reduction in CO2 emissions, 2050 emissions to be half of 2005 levels. These goals are being pursued in cooperation with various organizations in which Airbus plays a central role. The climate action plan includes improving combustion in existing aircraft. Airbus’ new fuel-efficient aircraft fleet achieves an efficiency of 2, 1 % in the last decade. Investments are being made in zero-emission technologies, including hybrid electric and hydrogen technologies. The development of sustainable alternative fuels will be pursued, daily flight routes will be optimized, ATM solutions and ground and air movements will be part of the effort to reduce the impact of traffic on the environment. Airbus is involved in the Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR).

Transmission manufacturer MTU, too, has set itself the goal of emission-free flying in line with the climate targets set at the Paris Climate Conference. Two paths are being pursued, the evolutionary one with the further development of the Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) and the revolutionary one with the electrification of the powertrain by means of fuel cells Fying Fuel Cells. In one case, the mechanical solution is a reduction gearbox between the fan and the low-pressure shaft, which allows all components to run at their respective speed optimum. Fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 16% and noise by 75%. In the other case, the revolutionary variant, new developments combine the aero-gas turbine with completely new technologies such as the “composite cycle approach”. Here, the turbomachine is combined with a piston engine.  In the “Steam Injected Water Recovering Gas Turbine,” a steam power process is integrated into the gas turbine process, thus utilizing the heat of the exhaust gas jet. Electric propulsion systems, especially hydrogen-powered fuel cells, have the potential to achieve zero-emission aviation without limiting transport performance and range. Alternative fuels, Sustainable Aviation Fuels, SAFs, play a major role in the “Clean Engine Concept”. Biomass, Power to Liquid, provides the largest quantities, but is in competition with food production, Solaranergy, Sun to Liquid, is another possibility. But in the long run, hydrogen is expected to be more efficient and cost effective compared to PTL fuels. No adaptation is required in this regard. The hydrogen can be used in the aviation gas turbine. And fuel cells are then used to convert it into electrical energy. But this requires new infrastructure, industrialization, and new aircraft designs. Economically, electric power makes sense only for shorter distances; for longer ones, it makes sense to use the hydrogen in the gas turbine.

The policy component links the technologies to the programs: Grean Deal with the Digital Strategy. The EU has launched both programs to be climate neutral in 2050.  In addition to these two programs, it also established the 10-year Destination Earth Initiative, which involves developing a digital twin of the Earth to map climate trends. The digital model will be used to predict specific scenarios affecting the Earth and also to find effective solutions to climate change.  The Earth System Model shows virtually all processes on the Earth’s surface-as realistically as possible-the impact of humans on water, food and energy management, and the processes in the physical Earth system. The Copernicus satellite fleet and Airbus Earth Observation satellites will feed the model with large amounts of satellite data.  The digital twin will be an information system that develops and tests scenarios that show more sustainable development and thus better inform policy. Enabling better policy. The digital twin will also be used for strategic planning of fresh water and food supplies, wind farms and solar farms. The project is a joint effort of the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre (CSCS), the Institute for High Performance Computing Systems. To take the step in the digital revolution, it is necessary to marry earth sciences with computer sciences, according to the deputy director of research at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Peter Bauer.  To get high-resolution simulations and to represent the complex processes of the geosystem, simulation programs must be adapted to new technologies that have greater computing power. For this to be achieved, hardware and algorithms must be advanced simultaneously. Researchers see great potential in AI for data collection or processing of monitoring data, representation of uncertain physical processes in models, and data compression. AI speeds up simulations and filters out the most important information. The physical process can be described in more detail. Supercomputers based on graphical process units seem to be the most promising in this regard. For economic and environmental reasons, such a computer should operate from a location where CO2 neutral generated electricity is available in sufficient quantities.

To come to a summary of the discussions: What do we see? We see that the green aerospace industry is interdisciplinary but also international, that sustainability and technology, digitalization are connected. That we can all work together to preserve our Earth and our space. If nothing else, the principle of the “common heritage of mankind” under international law applies in space, on the high seas, which must be jointly preserved for future generations.  Incidentally, the principle of global communication between individuals via the Internet is also under discussion.



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