NASA, DLR Look to Deepen Ties as Germany Carves Out Niche in Robotics

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is in Berlin this week to attend the International Aerospace Exhibition, where she will hold talks with DLR Chairman Johann-Dietrich Wörner about deepening ties between the two space agencies:

NASA-DLR efforts are likely to be focused on Earth observation technologies – including DLR’s strong suit of space-based radar – as well as composite materials, robotics and laser communications, says Wörner, who stresses that technologies geared to battling climate change are a priority.

DLR is also pursuing partnerships with other nations to develop its capabilities in optical observation of the Earth, to complement its radar technologies. And, says Wörner, DLR is keen to develop the European Space Agency and DLR strategies for manned spaceflight. He says he and Garver will also be discussing manned flight issues. Wörner insists that manned missions are going to remain important in an increasingly robotic age.

The talks come at a time when the Obama Administration is keen on deepening international cooperation in space. DLR is in a relatively strong position, with the government of Andrea Merkel sparing the space agency cuts that will impact almost all other areas of federal spending. Germany spends about 1.3 billion euros on space annually between DLR and its contribution to ESA.

The German space agency has been putting great emphasis on building up expertise in robotics:

DLR will be signing an agreement with the pan-European agency this week that will make Germany’s new Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics an “ESA reference laboratory”.

This means ESA will look to the work of the institute, based at Oberpfaffenhofen, to provide it with the capabilities needed on space missions.

Some 120m euros are being invested in the centre. It will investigate autonomous robots for the servicing of spacecraft in orbit and for the exploration of the planets, among other projects.

Last year, ESA agreed to give its new technical centre at Harwell in the UK a space robotics portfolio, and Professor Woerner said the British facility would need to choose its research areas carefully so as not to clash with German expertise.

Flight Global has the full story on the NASA-DLR talks.  BBC News reports on DLR’s activities here.