Satellites with high-resolution cameras, image sensors and image converters ("electro-optical systems") are of strongly increasing importance. So far, they could not be tested in Germany. This will change soon. A Competence Centre Optics (CCO) is to provide modern test technology on the premises of IABG (Industrieanlagen-Betriebsgesellschaft mbH) in Ottobrunn near Munich from 2022. The financing was secured by signing a provision contract with the federal government on Thursday. IABG made the announcement on Sunday.
"It is important for Germany as a research and development location that suitable, independent test facilities are available," said Prof. Dr. Rudolf F. Schwarz, Chairman of the Executive Board of IABG. The contract for the provision of the facilities was signed on Thursday. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) - represented by the Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) - will provide around 230 million euros over the next ten years. This is the largest single contract in the history of IABG to date.
Multiple benefits: from defence to environmental policy
Construction of the CCO is scheduled to begin in 2021.
Electro-optical systems make it possible to detect even the smallest details on Earth from space. They are not based on pattern recognition, but on the computer-assisted conversion of data. Such systems have many uses, including in the areas of foreign and security policy, defence, climate and environmental policy: electro-optical methods can be used to assess forest damage from space, for example, or to record field structures and agricultural activity. This is relevant, for example, in the context of the European "Green Deal", which demands significantly more insect, soil and climate protection measures from farmers in return for government subsidies.
Expansion at the Ottobrunn site
The provision contract signed on Thursday after lengthy negotiations stipulates that government and industrial research projects will have non-discriminatory access to the CCO's test facilities. To this end, IABG is investing in an extension to its existing space test centre (RTZ) in plant technology and highly qualified personnel.
In the test facilities, controlled environmental conditions (air pressure, temperature and humidity) are provided for test preparation. For the tests on the electro-optical systems, the operating conditions (temperature conditions in space as well as vacuum) can be simulated realistically so that, among other things, diffraction and interference effects, manufacturing deviations and, last but not least, the influences of the operating conditions on the optical systems can be characterised.
"The development and testing of electro-optical systems does not fall from the sky," says Prof. Dr. Rudolf F. Schwarz, Chairman of the Board of Management. "The systems require high-precision calibration and avoidance of vibrations. A comparison to illustrate the precision that is required here: when taking a bearing from Munich to Hamburg, for example, there should be a maximum deviation of three centimetres."
Unique test location in Europe
Until now, there was no testing capability in the relevant dimension in Germany. However, this is of strategic importance. "After commissioning, the CCO will be a unique test facility in Europe to support the development and qualification of innovative electro-optical systems and components," says Prof. Schwarz.
Synergy effects will be created at the site: By linking the CCO to IABG's existing space test centre, complete test campaigns for satellites with electro-optical instruments or systems can be carried out independently and without discrimination at one test site.
The investment in the CCO will be made by IABG. After commissioning of the CCO at the end of 2022, the provision of the CCO by IABG will be financed by the BMWi for an initial period of 10 years. With the conclusion of the provision contract, excellent conditions have been created for the further sustainable business development of IABG's Space division.