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Bavarian missiles

No, Markus Söder will not fly into space. But he wants to make the Free State the center of German space technology with an ambitious funding program. Some consider this to be an air act

In the beginning there was mockery: Söder starts into space. Söder reaches for the stars. This or something similar was often joked when the Bavarian CSU Prime Minister announced his own Bavarian space program in 2018 with the name “Bavaria One”. An air number in the literal sense of the word? His Vice Hubert Aiwanger (Free Voters), who likes it more down-to-earth, spoke of “megalomania”. And in the words of the great Bavarian cabaret artist Gerhard Polt, many asked: “Is that really necessary?”

In July, the Technical University of Munich (TUM) inaugurated its new faculty building for aerospace research – in Ottobrunn, east of the city, on a large area. Söder came, of course, and said: “Today nobody smiles about it anymore.” And: “Bavaria should become the Space Valley in Germany.”

Mirko Hornung is at the head of the newly created faculty, which conducts research on “Aviation, Space Travel and Geodesy”. The latter takes care of the measurement and mapping of the earth’s surface. Hornung is professor and dean of the faculty, which is now being expanded more and more at the Ottobrunn site. So what does he mean: is that necessary?

In an interview, the professor first looks back: “Munich is very well positioned industrially,” he says. In the past, however, “with a weak point” – science.

Once there were only two professorships at TUM that dealt with space travel, based in mechanical engineering. “Of course, that is far too little to be ahead of the game.” It is an “industrial policy question” whether to push it forward or not. Mirko Hornung says: “It is good that the state government wants that.”

Markus Söder proclaimed space travel as part of the new “High-Tech Agenda Bavaria” at the end of 2019 and as “Europe’s largest space faculty”. The two professorships in the new faculty have now become 23, and 55 should be filled by 2030. It is expected that there will be 4,000 students on the Ottobrunn campus, and the Free State is spending a total of 700 million euros on its space program. “It’s about new aircraft engines, carrier systems, new technologies in the space sector,” says Hornung.

Above all, he wants to clear up a misunderstanding that many people succumb to, to whom the subject is rather alien: “The systems are getting smaller and more flexible.” Flying from galaxy to galaxy in the comfortable spaceship Enterprise – this fantasy has less and less with the development in to do space travel. “We have smaller systems that often fly close to the earth,” says Hornung.

There are a few examples of useful space technology applications. For example, it could be important for climate protection if satellites precisely measure changes in sea level. The consequences of changes in terrain for the course of rivers can also be simulated. And with the “Horyzon” drone, life-saving defibrillators can be brought to people who suffer cardiac arrest in remote areas.

A “cluster” is to be created on the Ottobrunn campus in which science and industry are closely linked. Some companies such as Airbus and the Ariane Group are located nearby. But Mirko Hornung mainly relies on new start-ups. Since the aircraft are smaller and therefore no longer so expensive, fewer investments are required.

A prime example is the company “Isar Aerospace”, which was founded by three TUM students. They have already received founder prizes and manufacture small, inexpensive rockets, which in turn are used to launch many small satellites into space. These are important for the transmission of data to earth. This development is already referred to as the “miniaturization” of space travel. It was recently announced that Porsche is acquiring a stake in Isar Aerospace – the car manufacturers have evidently recognized that high-horsepower cars will no longer bring big money in the future.

Is space travel harmful to the environment because of its fuel consumption and materials? The benefits of knowledge about climate change, for example, are much greater than the damage, says Hornung. In contrast to complex Mars missions, for example – “but we don’t do them every day”. And what about the billionaires Bezos, Branson and Musk, who especially need the trip into space for their ego, as many complain? “Oh yes,” Hornung snorts a little. Such private flights are an “interesting niche”, after all, they would bring the topic to the public.

The Bavarian space activities are also viewed critically. The Green State MP and science spokeswoman Verena Osgyan speaks of “wrong focus and misleading labels”. When it comes to climate protection in Bavaria, “there are no longer any major deficits in knowledge, but there is an implementation problem”. Instead of investing in space, it is better to invest “in research on applied climate adaptation”. However, the state government only refused to establish a new center for this at the beginning of the year.

* Latin for: rocket of Bavaria

Mirko Hornung leitet die neu gegründete Fakultät in Ottobrunn. Er hofft auf Erkenntnisse für einen besseren Klimaschutz. Fabian Vogl


Mirko Hornung heads the newly founded faculty in Ottobrunn. He hopes to gain knowledge for better climate protection. Fabian Vogl

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