Space technologies have advanced greatly in recent years, leading to increasing demands from the business and research sectors. To meet these requirements, Bremen University now offers unique master’s degrees in Space Engineering and Space Sciences and Technologies. Here, students from around the world learn the skills required for a career in the aerospace industry or in research.
Bremen’s aerospace industry comprises more than 140 companies and 20 institutes, employs around 12,000 people and generates revenue totalling more than €4 billion a year: figures that no other location in Germany can match. Employers include leading international companies such as the aerospace firms OHB and Airbus, but also well-established research institutes like the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM), which is part of Bremen University – and they all require specialist staff.
The University of Bremen and its partner institutions already enjoy global recognition in the field of space science and technology. Now the university is consolidating its position further with new courses which are unique in their area. The 2017/18 winter semester sees the start of two English-language master’s degrees that focus entirely on the subjects of space technology and space exploration systems, as well as earth observation via satellite.
“The scientific goals of future space missions are constantly expanding, leading to new technological challenges,” explains Professor Claus Braxmaier. “These need to be overcome.” The Director of Space Technology at ZARM, together with his colleague, Dr Rodion Groll, has been responsible for developing the university’s new Space Engineering course, and he is pleased that demand for the inaugural semester was relatively high, with 60 international applicants for 20 places. Most of the applications came from Africa and Asia.
According to Braxmaier, addressing the challenges of the future requires a sound knowledge of the basics of space technology and space exploration systems – which the master’s degree, with its modules focused on practical work and research, will provide to his students. “There is a huge demand for space technology engineers within the industry. And research institutes are always on the lookout for people who will drive space exploration forward.” Until now, this demand has mostly been met by mechanical engineering graduates specialising in aerospace, Groll adds. “Now, for the first time in Germany, we have a master’s degree in engineering that focuses purely on space technology.”
How do you calculate an orbit and keep it stable? How do you position a satellite system in a specific orbit? Which new technologies will be required in future, and how can they be realised in practice? These are the sort of questions with which the students are going to be grappling over the next few years. The course is aimed at students holding bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, physics and mathematics/technomathematics. “The fact that the master’s degree does not follow on from a bachelor’s degree in the same subject allows us to expand the range of potential students,” says Braxmaier.
Braxmaier and the other lecturers are concentrating primarily on systems engineering – meaning they aim to convey an understanding of overall systems and how they are implemented. “And an overall system can consist of one satellite, but it could equally be a formation of many individual satellites.” As examples of practical applications, his colleague Dr Groll cites weather forecasts, navigation systems and earth observation for climate monitoring purposes. “Requirements are getting increasingly sophisticated, so the measuring equipment needs to become more and more precise,” the scientist explains. Precision technology allows you to determine climate change more accurately, for instance.
While the space technology engineers deal with systems as a whole, the second new degree course, Space Sciences and Technologies, provides an ideal complement by focusing on the practical application of the science. “Our colleagues at Space Engineering are the ones building the vehicles. We are the ones researching new scientific applications and then interpreting the data,” explains Vice Dean of Studies Dr Annette Ladstätter-Weißenmayer, who has developed the course curriculum with her colleague, Professor Steffen Paul. “Both are necessary – so it made sense to add both courses to the programme at the same time.”
Many physics and electrical engineering graduates already find employment in the aerospace industry, Paul explains. The new master’s degree is related to these disciplines. “It made sense to allow them to gain even more specific technical knowledge.” The international focus of the course enables it to attract “the best of the best”, as Ladstätter-Weißenmayer puts it. The figures speak for themselves: there were more than 150 applications from around the world, with only 20 places available on the course.
Over four semesters, students will become experts in earth observation and data analysis, while exploring the technology required. The aim is to enable them to see the bigger picture. “We give physicists a background in electrical engineering, and show electrical engineers how the equipment is actually used in practice, and what the specific requirements are,” explains Steffen Paul. A classic practical example is air pollution data, adds Ladstätter-Weißenmayer. “It allows us to draw important conclusions, for example on climate trends, and on the impact these may have on the population and on economic systems.” After around two years of intense preparation, both of them are pleased that the new degree course is now up and running. “We are keen to see whether the expectations of the students will match our ideas,” says Paul.
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