+49 (0) 421 9600-10
26 July 2018 - Astrid Labbert

Surveying space

Scientists from Bremen are helping to map Mars, Mercury and the moon

As any walker, cyclist or driver knows, navigating becomes easier the more precise the map or the sat-nav instructions are. And it is no different in space. Scientists at Bremen’s Jacobs University are participating in a major project aimed at harnessing existing research data for use in space exploration.

Geologist Dr Angelo Pio Rossi
Mars, Mercury and the moon still harbour many secrets – the PlanMap project, of which geologist Dr Angelo Pio Rossi is a member, hopes to shed some light on them. © WFB/Focke Strangmann

Data was hidden away in archives

Mankind has always been fascinated by celestial bodies, not least because these bodies still harbour many secrets. For a long time, scientists found it difficult to access existing data on Mars, Mercury or the moon, as it was hidden away in archives or on CDs in various scientific institutions. The growing use of digital technology and the resulting ability to process complex data volumes now make it possible to access and merge this data.

This is the task of the PlanMap research project, a collaboration of scientists from Italy, France, the UK, Bremen and Münster. “The idea has been around for many years,” says Dr Angelo Pio Rossi, a scientist and lecturer at Jacobs University in Bremen. The scientists felt that the time might now be right, and applied to carry out a joint research programme.

The Surveying of the Universe + Dr. Angelo Pio Rossi, Jacobs University Bremen
Dr Angelo Pio Rossi and his colleagues hope to use cutting-edge technology to combine and process existing data. © WFB/Focke Strangmann

Maps for future space missions

The European research programme Horizon 2020 is providing PlanMap with €1.5 million in funding over 36 months. The aim is to produce informative geological maps for future European space missions, in particular. These could be used to find a suitable landing site on the moon’s south pole, or to estimate the size of mineral deposits on the planets.

Existing maps are often based on information from the 1970s

Scientists like Angelo Pio Rossi believe that this highly complex data, collected using a wide range of technologies, contains a wealth of information. Existing maps are often based on material from the 1970s. “We have access to more advanced technology and a lot more data than in the 1970s,” Rossi explains. Hyperspectral imaging systems, for example, can measure electromagnetic radiation in great detail and tell us far more about surface composition than photographs do. The existing data just needs to be standardised and merged – but that is not as easy as it sounds. The scientists have to consider the basis and the method used to capture data, and also how precise this data is.

Many things are unknown, unlike on earth

This is of interest not only for European space exploration, but also for geologists. Mars and Mercury, for example, are mostly unknown territory. Unlike on earth, where countless rock samples have been taken, there are at best a few small samples from either of those planets. The conclusions that can be drawn from them are limited. “We already know a lot about our own planet, but we’re still right at the beginning where these two planets are concerned,” Rossi says.

Like a lost city in the Sahara

The 42-year-old, whose family is originally from Italy, is fascinated by the geology of distant planets. “It’s like a treasure that you may discover but cannot touch. There are processes happening there that have been undisturbed for millions, if not billions, of years. Everything is ancient, but it’s still there – just like a lost city in the Sahara,” he says. Rossi first came into contact with space exploration as a PhD student at the European Space Administration (ESA). He is now the professor of earth and planetary science at Jacobs University, an English-speaking establishment in Bremen, and over the coming three years he will coordinate the merging and processing of PlanMap’s data.  The plan is to collate and document the current status of research, and to produce maps and 2D and 3D geological models. It has already become clear that more time is needed: “This will take longer than three years. Mapping is a slow process that takes time.”

The Surveying of the Universe + Dr. Angelo Pio Rossi, geoscientist
Maps and 3D models are vital to the further exploration of Mars, Mercury and the moon, according to Dr Angelo Pio Rossi of Jacobs University. © WFB/Focke Strangmann

A difficult mission to Mercury – seven years to get there

The same applies to space exploration. The BepiColombo mission to Mercury, a joint initiative between Europe and Japan, is set to launch in October 2018. It will take seven years before it even enters the polar orbit of this little-studied planet. According to Rossi, the PlanMap project will process data from NASA for this mission. The scientists will then have to be extremely patient. The BepiColombo mission aims to collect new geological data from Mercury and so help to improve our understanding of the processes in the solar system. But it will take years before the data from the BepiColombo mission is available, Rossi adds.

Press contact:

Dr Angelo Pio Rossi, Professor of Earth and Planetary Science, Jacobs University, Tel.: +49 421-200 3153, an.rossi@jacobs-university.de

Within the space industries and aeronautics sector more than 140 companies and 20 institutes, a workforce of about 12,000 employees, generate more than 4 billion euros per year. Find out more about Bremen's aerospace industry.

21 August 2019
Hives, bees and sweet gold

Honey is sweet and full of trace elements, minerals and vitamins. This healthy treat is particularly special to Bremen, as the city is home to a whole host of importers, researchers, laboratories and entrepreneurs focused on bees and honey.

Investing in Bremen
20 May 2019
New incubator for space start-ups in Bremen

The ESA Business Incubation Centre (BIC) Northern Germany is a new beacon project for the aerospace sector in Bremen.

22 November 2018
Tradition meets innovation

The state of Bremen covers 420 square kilometres and is home to around 670,000 people. Almost 22,000 companies provide more than 325,000 jobs. Below, we introduce some of the strong sectors that that make Bremen such an excellent business location.

20 November 2018
Space exploration takes flight in Bremen

The path into space begins in Bremen. Production on the upper stage of the Ariane 6, the latest generation of Europe’s launch vehicle, is set to start shortly next to Bremen Airport. The launcher is intended to guarantee Europe independent access to space.

Success stories
13 November 2018
Bremen is one of Germany’s leading industrial hubs

Bremen is Germany’s sixth-largest industrial hub in terms of revenue. Whether the sector is aerospace, food, automotive, shipping or steel production, Bremen has always been a major player.

2 October 2018
The space industry in Bremen: living and working in the Hanseatic city

Nowhere in Germany is bigger in the aerospace industry than Bremen. We spoke to Bremen-based scientists working on the space side of aerospace about their projects, their life in the city, and their tips on where to live and where to visit.

27 September 2018
Bringing the universe to Bremen

Every year, the movers and shakers of the space industry gather at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC). From 1 to 5 October, it will be Bremen’s turn to host the event. A team from the Center of Applied Space Technology and ...

20 September 2018
How digital media is shaping society

How is the role of media and other forms of communication changing in society? What are the resulting challenges? The international MA in Digital Media and Society, which launches at the University of Bremen in time for the winter semester, aims to provide the answers.

Success stories
6 September 2018
Safety first: sensor expertise in Bremen

We don’t normally get to see Littelfuse’s products. And yet there’s hardly any electronic device that doesn’t require components from this global market leader. The European headquarters of the US firm are located in Bremen. And they’re far more than just a sales office.

23 August 2018
InnoWi – Bremen’s patent application specialists

Good ideas may be rare, but imitators are easy to find. Which makes it all the more important to secure patents for new inventions. Bremen-based InnoWi helps companies and the research community to register new patents, and is also on hand to provide advice and access to funding.

Investing in Bremen
17 July 2018
Major project on the key technology of lightweight construction is taking shape

The construction of the complex new EcoMaT research and technology centre at Airport-Stadt Bremen is at an advanced stage. Prospective tenants include Airbus and Testia, as well as a number of leading medium-sized businesses and scientific institutions. After the topping-out ceremony, work will get under way on the interior of the building.

Maritime economy and logistics
12 July 2018
Exploring the seafloor with intelligent software

The depths of the ocean remain one of the last great mysteries on Earth. What is the precise composition of the seafloor? What flora and fauna inhabit it? Where has the delicate balance of the ecosystem been seriously disrupted? We still don’t have complete answers to any of these questions, but four young scientists from Bremen are aiming to change that.

31 May 2018
Women in Aerospace – an organization promoting women in space industry

Space is not just a man’s business. The global network Women in Aerospace (WIA) aims to increase women’s leadership opportunities and visibility in the space industry – also in Bremen. An interview with Antonella Sgambati und Michela Cantisani, coordinators of WIA Bremen.

29 May 2018
Science and research in Bremen: living and working in the Hanseatic city

There are 35,000 students at eight universities in Bremen, as well as numerous research establishments, all of which work together successfully. It is a dynamic centre of science and learning. We spoke to a number of researchers and academics to find out what it’s like to live and work in Bremen and Bremerhaven.

22 May 2018
Artificial intelligence made in Bremen

Artificial intelligence isn’t just a matter of computer programming. It’s a challenging question: how can a robot successfully deal with real, unpredictable surroundings? For 30 years, solutions to this problem have been developed at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). This Bremen-based facility has been so successful that its employees are now founding their own company.

Investing in Bremen
24 April 2018
Bremen Airport-Stadt: where aerospace and business meet

Bremen Airport-Stadt is an international transport hub and a centre of excellence for the aerospace industry and for research and learning. It occupies a leading position among Germany’s airport locations. Here are ten benefits that Bremen Airport-Stadt offers.

27 February 2018
Moon living

One day, astronauts will live and carry out research on the moon – and even a colony on Mars is no longer the distant utopian dream it once was. But how will people be able to live in an extraterrestrial environment? The Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) at the University of Bremen is working on a solution.

1 November 2017
Studying aerospace engineering in Bremen

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.

12 October 2017
Prepare for bake off

If astronauts want to get all the way to Mars one day, they’ll need food supplies for the journey. Part of the solution could be to grow their own grains and bake bread themselves. Bremen start-up Bake in Space is on the verge of making this vision a reality.

Maritime economy and logistics
27 September 2017
Where space and deep sea meet

The research alliance ROBEX is sending robots up active volcanoes and down into the deepest and darkest seas. Working across disciplines, the 120 scientists of the 16 institutes involved are breaking new ground on this project. They have been eagerly waiting to find out what has happened to the TRAMPER diving robot, which has been exploring the deep seas around Spitsbergen for a year. Now they are ready to bring it back.

11 July 2017
To boldly go, and safely return – behind the scenes at Ariane Group

The multi-million-mile journey of the Ariane 5 rocket begins in Bremen, while that of Spacelab came to an end here in 1999, after 15 years of service with 22 missions to outer space. Ariane Group in Bremen is the ideal place to experience the history of space travel.

Investing in Bremen
13 June 2017
Airbus’ site manager Dr André Walter: “For us, digitalisation means making work easier and more efficient”

A great deal of manual labour goes into aircraft construction. Despite this – or perhaps even because of it – Airbus is changing its approach to make increased use of digital technologies. It’s also researching the applications of new manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing. And not a moment too soon, as Airbus’ site manager in Bremen, Dr André Walter, explains in our interview.

15 February 2017
"Bremen has everything that a hub for the space industry needs"

In December 2016 ministers from the European Space Agency (ESA) member states met to determine the roadmap for the European space sector for the years ahead. Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Bremen submitted joint recommendations. In the following interview Dr Peter Vits, Bremen's State Coordinator for the Space Sector, talks about Bremen's strengths and opportunities.

14 February 2017
Take-off for Bremen: what makes the city a hub for aerospace expertise

The sky is not the limit, at least not in Bremen. All parts of the aerospace sector are represented in the city, from R&D to production. Aeroplane wings, Ariane rockets and Galileo satellites – Bremen is one of the leading locations in the international aerospace industry. Here are five factors behind Bremen’s story of success.

31 January 2017
“50 per cent of the exhibition space has already been reserved”

In 2015 Bremen won the right to host the International Astronautical Congress for the second time, after having successfully held the event in 2003. Its bid was the result of a collaboration between the Bremen regional government and Bremen’s space industry and space research sector. Event partners include the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the German Aerospace Centre.

EcoMaT / lightweight construction
25 November 2016
Aircraft construction at close quarters – behind the scenes at the Airbus Group

What makes an aircraft fly? You don't have to be an aerospace expert to be fascinated by what goes on behind the scenes at one of the largest aircraft construction companies in the world. The Airbus Group in Bremen turns the dream of flying into ...