Quantum research for outer space
New DLR Institute of Quantum Technologies in Space Applications in Ulm

Ulm University

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is setting up an institute in Ulm on the subject of quantum technologies in space applications (DLR-QT). The aim of DLR-QT is to develop next-generation precision instruments that can be used for navigation, communication as well as Earth observation and weather observation in space. In close cooperation with industry, DLR-QT will build a bridge between basic research and application. The institute has an annual budget of around €11 million at its disposal for this purpose, 90 percent of which is funded by the federal government and 10 percent by the state government of Baden-Württemberg.

The decision was announced after the meeting of the German Bundestag’s Budget Committee, which approved the funds for the establishment of seven new DLR institutes at the end of last week. Subject to the decision of the German Bundestag, a total of €63.4 million were released for new DLR facilities in Ulm, Hannover, Oberpfaffenhofen, Cottbus and Görlitz, Neustrelitz, Cochstedt and in the Rhein-Sieg district.

'The establishment of this non-university research institute on the campus of Ulm University shows that we play an outstanding role in quantum technology on a national and international level,' said Professor Michael Weber, President of Ulm University. The DLR Institute of Quantum Technologies in Space Applications, which is to be located close to the University, comprises four departments: these include the areas of quantum metrology, quantum sensor technology and matter wave optics, miniaturised optical clocks and quantum information technology. Quantum engineering and theoretical quantum physics will take on cross-sectional functions. Why all this? 'Space travel is a highly complex matter that requires high-performance technologies, be it for Earth observation or weather observation, communication or navigation. The demand for instruments with even higher resolution is enormous – for example, for position, time and acceleration measurements on and between satellites. Quantum technologies help us to do this,' explains Professor Wolfgang Schleich, Director of the Institute of Quantum Physics at Ulm University. He and Professor Hansjörg Dittus, member of the DLR Executive Board, are among the initiators of the new institute in Ulm.

DLR-QT's work will not only benefit space research but also us humanity: for example, in areas such as satellite-based navigation or Earth observation. High-precision quantum clocks, for instance, are much more powerful than conventional atomic clocks and enable a more precise positioning for GPS systems. Such new measurement technologies are based on so-called second-generation quantum technologies. One such example is the use of highly sensitive interferometers based on Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC). Another area for a promising leap from basic research to application is quantum communication. Here, quantum cryptography is to be used for novel encryption techniques that are far superior to conventional, mathematically based algorithms for the encryption of messages.

For Ulm University, the Science City and the innovation region at large, the new DRL institute is a considerable asset. The state of Baden-Württemberg, which is already one of the leading aerospace locations, will benefit as well. The local space industry and associated companies have therefore expressly supported this project. These include companies such as Airbus, Bosch, Hahn-Schickard, Hensoldt, SpaceTech, Tesat-Spacecom and Zeiss. 'We are pleased that the research landscape in our region is enriched by this institute. The attractiveness of our region as a high-tech location will be amplified. We hope to attract even more talented and ambitious scientists to our region,' says Otto Sälzle, CEO of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Industrie- und Handelskammer; IHK). The IHK Ulm supported the University's endeavour from the very beginning.

DLR-QT will help to bring basic quantum technology research to prototype maturity and industrial application. It thus perfectly complements the research activities of the Center for Integrated Quantum Science and Technology (IQST). The multidisciplinary institute also has the mission of bringing 'second-generation' quantum technologies to application maturity, for example in the field of quantum-optical high-performance imaging. IQST is operated by Ulm University and the University of Stuttgart together with the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart and is supported by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg (Ministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Kunst Baden-Württemberg; MWK-BW).

'The fact that we have been able to win another DLR site is an outstanding event for us, and one that we are very happy about. My special thanks go to the initiators of the project, Professor Wolfgang Schleich and Professor Hansjörg Dittus, as well as to the supporters from politics, especially member of the German Bundestag Ronja Kemmer,' says university president Weber.

Text and media contact: Andrea Weber-Tuckermann

Satellite photograph, artistically edited (source: ESA)
Galileo test satellite; the Galileo In-Orbit Validation (IOV) test satellite, artistic depiction (source: ESA)
Reaching the orbit; the two Galileo navigation satellites are almost there: about four hours after take-off, they reach their orbit at an altitude of 23,222 kilometres. For this purpose, the in-orbit validation satellites are separated simultaneously from the Fregat carrier unit. (source: ESA)
Prof. Wolfgang Schleich (photo: Elvira Eberhardt / Ulm University)