The overarching element of our research is the study of space resources in the context of SRU (Space Resource Utilisation). We investigate elements along the entire SRU value chain, starting with the development of instruments for the prospection and analysis of space resources, up to the design of industrial processes for the utilisation of resources in space.
Here you can find an overview of our research projects.
Here, the planetary regolith plays a central role, as it is the most important raw material for the extraction of vital products such as oxygen and water. Another central aspect is the extreme environmental conditions under which exploration missions operate, such as low temperature, vacuum, radiation and reduced gravity. To improve our understanding of space resources, we perform research on the origin of lunar water, the interaction of water with the regolith, as well as the behaviour of water in the subsurface of planetary bodies and their exospheres.
Our research in this context is oriented along the following themes:
Includes: Heat and mass transfer in planetary regolith; extraction of volatiles such as water/ice from planetary regolith; exosphere composition and interaction with the surface
Goal: Improved models to predict thermal processes in regolith (migration, emplacement, and extraction of lunar water) and the exosphere; development and optimisation of processes for in-situ analysis of water in the solar system
ExESS (Extraterrestrial Exospheres and Surfaces Simulations) is the project title under which numerical models and simulations are created to analyze exospheres and surface of extraterrestrial bodies in our solar system. While several models of the exospheres and surfaces individually exist, their interaction with one another is the focus of ExESS.
While not all of the bodies in our solar system can be modeled this way, those with a collisionless atmosphere, also called a surface-bounded exosphere, can be. Several targets like this exist, the most prominent one being Earth's Moon. Others include Mercury and asteroids like Ceres.
The IDESI group ("Improving the Description of Exosphere Surface Interaction"), sponsored bei the International Space Science Institute, is investigating thin atmospheres in our solar system, as well as their interaction with the underlying surface and vice-versa.
Production of Oxygen, Water and Metals
Includes: Mining and extraction of planetary soil material; solid-gas interactions for SRU applications
Goal: Improved thermal- and electrochemical processes for extracting water, oxygen, and metals from planetary regolith, development of mechanisms for combining process engineering elements for SRU
ISRULib aims to be an open-source database of ISRU readable and easily-understandable models that can be incorporated into specific analysis and simulation tools, and be used by the entire community to carry out high-level technological trade-offs and preliminary architectural definitions.
Instrumentation for In-situ Analysis in Planetary Environments
Includes: Instrumentation for exploration and scientific characterisation of planetary environments; subsurface probes and drilling into (icy) planetary regolith; sensors for in-situ measurement of electrical permittivity of planetary regolith; contamination with and mitigation of planetary dust particles
Goal: Development of instruments/subsystems to measure environmental conditions on the Moon/planets/asteroids, engineering for extreme environmental conditions (especially thermal), development of compact and lightweight sensor systems for detection and characterisation of icy soil material, analysis of the influence of dust contamination on mechanical/thermal/optical systems, electrical/mechanical mitigation of dust contamination
The LVS is an instrumented drill for in-situ characterisation of planetary soil samples and volatiles. The cavity drill can be used to drill into icy regolith to a depth of about 10 cm. The enclosed regolith is then heated to >400 °C with the help of an integrated heating element to release volatile substances such as water. A built-in miniaturised ion trap mass spectrometer (ITMS) and pressure sensors allow live analysis of the evolved gases. Due to the minimal manipulation of the sample, the risk of losing volatile substances during the otherwise necessary sampling is avoided. This allows characterisation of the sample in its pristine state, which is a significant advantage over conventional instruments for analysing soil samples.
Measuring regolith’s electrical permittivity is a promising technique to quickly determine the state and abundance of water in lunar regolith. Multiple missions to the Moon and other celestial bodies have used or intend to use permittivity sensors and the Technical University of Munich (TUM) is currently developing this measurement technique for several applications.
The PROSPECT instrument package (Platform for Resource Observation and in-Situ Prospecting for Exploration, Commercial exploitation and Transportation), developed by ESA, is scheduled to fly to the Moon's South Pole in 2025 as part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme.
Near-Earth Objects and High-velocity Impacts
Includes: Meteoroid flux; Near-Earth Objects; high-velocity impacts in planetary regolith
Goal: Improvement of models for the prediction of meteoroids in the decimeter to meter range, momentum transfer and dynamics of impacts on asteroids, asteroid deflection
The AllBert EinStein project will provide data for fireball and space debris research by observing the controlled re-entry of one or more artificial meteoroids. For this purpose, a precisely characterized artificial meteoroid will be launched into space and subsequently burn up in the atmosphere. The resulting optical radiation and its spectral composition will be recorded via an airborne observation campaign. The resulting data will be used to determine the photometric radiation equivalent (luminous efficacy), a measure of energy conversion efficiency to optical radiation, and to verify laboratory experiments and models. This knowledge is particularly necessary for understanding the atmospheric entry of asteroids, as well as for analyzing the re-entry of space debris. Due to the simple mechanical, thermal, and electrical structure, as well as a short mission duration, the technical feasibility threshold is low and rapid and cost-effective development is possible. A reasonable first mission opportunity is the flight of the second Spectrum rocket by Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH as part of the Spectrum Demonstration Flights.
Besides the sun, the eight planets and numerous moons, our Solar System consists of countless small bodies. Most of them are located in the so-called asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, as well as in the outer regions of the system. Even if our Solar System seems to be very stable at first sight, the system is dynamic on astronomical time scales. Especially small bodies can change their orbits strongly and can get on a collision course with the Earth. If it is only a dust piece up to a centimeter-sized meteoroid, we can observe their entry into the Earth's atmosphere as harmless meteors (shooting stars), where they burn up. The meteors of larger objects are called fireballs and can be observed even in broad daylight. At sizes of ten meters or more, shock waves can cause serious damage to people and property, eventually culminating in global destruction in the case of kilometer-sized asteroids or comets. Fortunately, there are fewer "large" small bodies than "small" small bodies, which is why an impact of a so-called global killer is very unlikely, while shooting stars can be observed nightly.
How many Small Solar System Bodies exist and what their size and orbit distribution is, has been a research topic for a long time, but answering this question has turned out to be quite difficult. "Larger" objects can be found in space with the help of telescopes, while "smaller" objects, due to their large number, often collide with Earth, where they are observed with cameras as meteors. There is a gap of objects which are too small for telescopes and at the same time rarely collide with Earth. This gap shall be closed with this project.