How does space travel affect the environment?
"Environmental monitoring from space will take on a scale that we cannot even imagine at the moment."
What are the greatest benefits of Earth observation for you?
You get clear facts. Our culture is based on knowledge, on empiricism. You admit that you don't know everything, that observation brings further knowledge, and that knowledge may change behavior. In this sense, earth observation means that we learn more about the earth and thus perhaps find out better and faster where it is developing. In this case, the deeper sense of space travel is that it can do it on a larger scale. And from that she can derive great authority. Because in the end it is always about making predictions or theories believable. To do this, you have to observe and collect facts. In the case of the environment and climate, this is at least the case. In the case of satellite-based reconnaissance, it is perhaps more about reproducing reality in a sovereign and independent manner in order to know what is. Political and, if necessary, military decisions are then derived from this.
Environmental observation, however, will be confronted with the question of how one can assess and influence long-term developments.
Which of the areas mentioned is most important for OHB?
That can be described well in waves. For a long time, satellite reconnaissance was the most important area for OHB. SAR-Lupe was a project that catapulted us into a new league around 18 years ago. If you look into our halls at the moment, satellites are the largest area for weather observation. In the long term, the environment, including weather and climate, is certainly the most important. Environmental monitoring from space will take on a scale that we cannot even imagine at the moment.
What do you mean?
Environmental monitoring will have a permanence and complexity that clearly distinguishes it from all other areas. The reconnaissance involves three or four imaging sensors, for example high-resolution electronic optics, radar or infrared. There is a lot more for the environment. And in such a way that I am convinced that in the future we will possibly be talking about sensors that require our own satellite constellation.
And what developments do you see for earth observation as a whole?
It will develop differently in terms of the innovation cycle. Education provides information about the status quo. Weather observation provides information about today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Environmental monitoring, however, will be confronted with the question of how one can assess and influence long-term developments.
Is OHB thus making a contribution to protecting and preserving the planet in the long term?
A contribution, yes. Space travel as a whole claims that it is doing good for the earth. When it comes to monitoring the environment, we of course also claim that the earth should be preserved.
And the benefit for the people? In your opinion, is it perceived in everyday life?
For the weather observation there is no question, of course. That is the most common thing that one can get as information today. And many older people still remember that for a long time the weather forecast had more to do with fortune-telling than empiricism. Today it's completely different. Weather forecasts have become reliable. It has become a natural science that delivers precise predictions. In short: the weather is the most common question that concerns everyone. Everyone, in all cultures, in all walks of life, is interested in the weather.
The weather is the most common question that concerns everyone.
That sounds like a permanent business model.
I firmly believe in that. Weather observation will be very, very important for a very, very long time. The satellite business in this area is benefiting because satellites for weather observation have gotten much better over the past few decades. The question is always the same: what can you observe, what insights do you gain and what can be deduced from it? Seen in this way, space travel has brought a lot to the weather forecast, but vice versa, so has space travel weather.
The next generation of weather satellites, MTG, is currently being built in our halls. What's the big step forward in this?
There are imager and sounder satellites. Imager satellites are all about further improving imaging. The big step forward, however, are the Sounder satellites. This enables profile measurements in the vertical, i.e. a three-dimensional acquisition of atmospheric data. This innovation of the sounder enables a more precise, long-term forecast and local weather events can also be better forecast.
With Eaglet we also have small satellites in our program. What role will these small satellites play?
Hopefully they will become an important addition to our portfolio today. The spectrum of our satellites will be very large - from five kilos to five tons. The small satellites have the advantage that they can measure in swarms and thus in many places at the same time. The swarm intelligence provides a comprehensive picture of the situation. For this reason I am convinced that these small satellites will find their market.
In November, at the ESA Ministerial Conference, a decision will also be made on the European Earth observation mission Copernicus. OHB is currently involved in the mission with a total of five feasibility studies. How important is Copernicus for OHB?
Very important. So far we have only been involved in the program to a limited extent in the Sentinel-4 project. There is great future potential for us. From a strategic point of view, it is the largest new field for OHB that we want to open up.
What is the goal for OHB at Copernicus?
We want to become the system leader in two of six possible new missions and play a substantial role in two more, such as payload responsibility.
Another ambitious but very complex project is the EnMap environmental satellite. There were many mainly technical problems and delays. In the meantime, however, the project is on the home stretch. Are you looking forward to it?
Yes, because it shows that we in our company have the courage to tackle things that have never been done before and that we have the stamina to find solutions to the enormous challenges. In this respect, I am very happy, especially since a similar satellite - Prisma from our subsidiary OHB Italia - is ready and has recently been successfully launched.
What was the challenging thing about EnMap?
The satellite observation instrument is an innovation and, from this point of view, of course, technically extremely challenging. The project was a lot more difficult than we thought at the beginning. But it has developed enormously over the years. What was originally a simple small satellite has become a very complex medium-sized satellite. Technically and financially.
EnMap is a hyperspectral satellite. What does that mean?
Hyperspectral means that data is recorded in 20 to 250 spectral channels, ranging from wavelengths in the ultraviolet to the long-wave infrared. Measurements with the accuracy of EnMAP have not yet been made from space. There are only two projects in the world for which hyperspectral satellites of this complexity are being developed and built - and both projects are taking place at OHB.
We are leaders in the field of reconnaissance, with weather satellites we are part of the big players through the MTG project.
There are only two projects in the world that develop and build hyperspectral satellites of this complexity - and both projects are taking place at OHB.
What does this technological lead mean strategically?
This technology can be used to obtain better quality and, above all, more useful data, especially for environmental monitoring. Hyperspectral technology allows conclusions to be drawn about dynamic environmental influences. It is about being able to make qualitative statements about the development of soils or vegetation, for example.
So does that mean the more Earth observation satellites serve people's everyday and even economic benefits, the more indispensable the service will be considered?
Correct. The ideal situation for us is actually the permanent monitoring of the earth's environment, climate and security. Because then we are part of the infrastructure, a kind of knowledge infrastructure that makes data available around the clock.
Which educational projects are most important for OHB?
SAR-Lupe has been running very successfully in full operational operation for over eleven years without even the slightest failures in a decade. The successor system SARah is currently being implemented and is well developed. We also have two important projects for Germany and Luxembourg in the field of high-resolution electro-optical reconnaissance. We would also like to work with the Italian state with our small satellite series Eaglet. Eaglet 1 was successfully launched at the end of 2018, Eaglet 2 is currently being built on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Defense.
How many of these small satellites are ideally possible?
Around 60. Eaglet 1 flies and sends pictures, Eaglet 2 is commissioned and Eaglet 3 and 4 are being negotiated. We hope to get this fleet of four demonstration satellites into space to prove that the concept works.
What potential do you look at when you consider the environment and climate?
With regard to the weather satellites, we are looking at the imager and sounder satellites as part of the MTG project. Our third contribution in the area of weather is the Microwave Imager (MWI), which will be manufactured by OHB Italia as an additional payload for the future polar-flying European weather satellites. When it comes to environmental satellites, I look at Sentinel 4, our contributions to the Flex payload, EnMap, Prisma and the new Copernicus missions. Our main focus is of course on the upcoming Copernicus missions. To be there to a reasonable extent is the most important thing for us.
How do you define OHB in the field of earth observation?
We can be pretty confident about that. We are leaders in the field of reconnaissance, with weather satellites we are part of the big players through the MTG program. At Copernicus, we're the new guy. As I said, we want to have an important say in this in the future.
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