Pascale Ehrenfreund on the role of maintenance-intensive infrastructures, CC licenses, and the internet in the research of the DLR.
The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) was founded in 1969. How has the significance of DLR as a research infrastructure changed since then?
DLR and its research facilities are closely involved in collaborative projects within the national and international scientific communities. DLR has more than 100 large-scale research facilities, some of which are globally unique. The facilities are also made available to research partners from universities and the industrial sector. These include the Columbus Control Centre for the International Space Station (ISS) and our fleet of research aircraft and helicopters. We are, for example, making one of our research aircraft available for a summer school, which will enable students to conduct their own in-flight tests and experiments.
For some years now, ambitious private individuals have also been involved in the aerospace industry. Why is it important that we continue to maintain publicly funded research centres such as DLR?
DLR covers the entire system chain – from basic research to high-tech developments and technology transfer. It also takes preliminary steps towards marketable products. DLR is the largest aerospace research center in Europe and conducts space research in many different areas such as space transportation, Earth observations and space exploration. We cooperate with several national and international partners and educate the next generation of aerospace engineers. Research facilities such as DLR support the industry and contribute important research findings and innovative technologies to the innovation chain. DLR does not pursue commercial interests, but we support founder to strengthen technology transfer.
In a way, DLR can be described as an infrastructure of infrastructures. For example, it maintains the space flight control centre and the research fleet, which are two large and maintenance-intensive infrastructures. How important are such infrastructures for research? Why is it important that such infrastructures exist?
Infrastructure forms the basis for large-scale research. Above all, these facilities enable us to engage in systemic research. With our aeronautics research and fleet of research aircraft we study e.g. greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we test unmanned aerial systems, alternative fuels and help to improve future air mobility, just to name a few. In order to enhance the technology readiness level, tests under real conditions are crucial and requires infrastructure and test facilities. The space flight control centre is important e.g. for the operation of our own satellites and supports in international cooperation activities and science experiments of astronauts on the International Space Station.
In 2012, DLR made all its own images on its web portal available online for reuse, with CC licences. How are they used? How is the Internet used for DLR’s work, and how may it be used in the future?
For DLR, the internet is an indispensable platform for exchanging information. We are following the latest trends with the relaunch of our website. The use of CC licences is in great demand. It allows us to provide extensive public information in a transparent way. The internet has become a basic resource that our researchers use as a means of cross-border communication at a global level. We are using AI-methods to optimize search results on our websites. Our aim is to enhance the way of sharing relevant scientific information with the public.