For centuries, the depths of the universe have been explored with telescopes. Fundamental insights into the relationship between humankind and the universe go back to this. In the meantime, however, space has also become part of the human battlefield, where war and peace are increasingly being decided. HENSOLDT offers suitable technologies for both challenges. With its sensors, HENSOLDT makes satellite-based reconnaissance in space possible. The company is a partner of European and international space missions and provides security in and from space.
Alien planets, fossilized stars, more suns than grains of sand on Earth, black holes – science is revealing places beyond previous human imagination. How did all this come about? And does life exist out there somewhere? Humankind has been fascinated by space exploration – and not just since the first manned space missions in the early 1960s.
Today, space travel enables direct exploration of planets on the ground, as well as detailed observation of the Earth from orbit. Vital processes are directly dependent on the continuous supply of satellite data on weather, climate, communications, and localization. Increasingly, this is also true for global security. Today more than ever, space-based capabilities are influencing the question of victory or defeat in military conflicts. And they themselves are increasingly becoming targets of attack.
The war in Ukraine illustrates this development in many respects: It was foreshadowed as early as January 2022, when satellite-based sensor technology showed Russian troop buildups in the border regions on GPS imagery. From the beginning, troops on both sides communicated via satellite link. GPS-guided missiles enabled Ukraine to locate and destroy Russian ammunition dumps and artillery far behind enemy lines. Russia responded by launching cyberattacks on Ukraine’s satellite communications systems. After tests with antisatellite weapons as early as 2021 showed that Russia could conduct physical attacks in space, a senior Russian official told the UN in the context of the Ukraine war: Commercial satellites of the United States and its allies could be “legitimate targets for retaliatory strikes.”
Today, HENSOLDT technologies play an important role in many areas of both space research and defence. The company develops highly sensitive sensors for satellite-based reconnaissance – from low-Earth orbit and for use in deep space missions. HENSOLDT innovations help to strengthen Europe’s technological sovereignty in this promising domain as a central theater of future high-tech conflicts. And they illustrate once again the way in which aerospace drives innovation in many areas.
HENSOLDT benefits from many years of experience in aerospace applications, which pays off especially in aerospace technologies. This is because both each individual component and the systems as a whole are highly sensitive. Precisely calibrated, they must withstand the highest loads. Extreme vibrations and many times the acceleration due to gravity during launch are followed by decades of operation under the most inhospitable conditions and temperatures close to absolute zero (–273 degrees Celsius). Corrections or maintenance: impossible.
HENSOLDT’s infrastructure therefore plays a key role in the run-up to the launch: Each element for space use is tested in advance in thermal vacuum chambers with optical access, and vibration and electromagnetic test facilities, as well as environmental test chambers, and then manufactured in class 100 clean rooms.
Last but not least, safety “Made by HENSOLDT” also makes the difference: It reliably protects objects in space as well as their hardware, software, and data transmissions.
In the cleanroom
As the preliminary highlight of a whole series of space missions with HENSOLDT participation, the “James Webb Space Telescope” (JWST) was launched into space on December 25, 2021. On board: MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) and NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) – two key elements for observing galaxies billions of light-years away. For both, HENSOLDT had developed crucial technologies in close collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy Heidelberg (MPIA): moving parts that function in extreme cold (so-called cryomechanisms) and special optics which, in combination with selective imaging, enable a look into the depths of space in the first place.
As early as 2022, JWST delivered the first scientific results on the formation of galaxies, stars, and planets. Spectacularly detailed images of the planet Jupiter made headlines around the world and threw a current spotlight on the fascination of the universe for the general public.
JWST orbits the sun some 1.5 million kilometers from Earth and is considered the most elaborate unmanned space project of all time. JWST is the first telescope with the ability to split light into wavelengths. It is capable of recording images of stars and galaxies as well as determining their chemical composition. For example, the telescope can be used to record water availability and carbon dioxide content on the spot. The sensors thus function as humanity’s outpost in the universe.
HENSOLDT’s history in space began long before JWST with the first moon landing. Whether surveying the Earth’s surface, analyzing ecological relationships, or observing the weather, whether exploring the planets and moons of our solar system, or looking into distant galaxies: Optical instruments, radar sensors, components for reconnaissance satellites, and instruments for research missions from HENSOLDT ensure reliable results. Space agencies such as the American NASA, the European ESA, the French CNES, and the German DLR count on ideas and solutions from HENSOLDT. Together, they worked on the development of the JWST for 25 years. This demonstrates once again how European technology makes global projects possible.
And preparations for the next mission are already in full swing: In 2023, ESA’s JUICE (JUpiter ICy Moons Explorer) probe is scheduled to begin its journey to Jupiter. It will be used to explore the surface of the largest planet in our solar system and its three icy moons Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto – also with regard to their habitability and possible landing sites for future missions. Space technology from HENSOLDT will also be on board here: The Ganymede Laser Altimeter (GALA) will measure the deformation of Ganymede’s ice crust and its shape. A comprehensive map of the entire regional and local topography is also being created. It will help to understand the processes that formed the moon.
Image from the Hubble Space Telescope (entered service in 1990)
Image from the “James Webb Space Telescope” (2022)
“James Webb Space Telescope”
JUICE (JUpiter ICy Moons Explorer)
Threats in space are many and they are growing every day. More and more nations are actively trying to sabotage space-based systems. From the ground, with missiles, or with lasers, they are jamming communications and navigation satellites, blinding reconnaissance satellites, and disabling their solar panels, which are vital for power generation. At the same time, 20,000 objects larger than ten centimeters and 700,000 objects larger than one centimeter now orbit the Earth. At enormous speeds, they can damage or even completely destroy active satellites.
HENSOLDT offers the right solutions for many of these threat scenarios. Electronically controlled antennas detect even the smallest objects that could become a hazard in their orbit. Evasive maneuvers can be initiated at an early stage. Laser alarms detect possible attacks, and IT is also comprehensively protected.
To this end, HENSOLDT Cyber has developed a secure IT base that embeds the operating system in the hardware in such a way that it becomes unassailable. This combination of a protected base processor with a mathematically verified, correct, error-free operating system kernel meets the highest security requirements. Other aerospace applications of HENSOLDT Cyber, such as cyber hardening of electronic components, big data collection, high performance data storage, analytics and visualization, and penetration testing further enhance security.
The amount of data is continuously increasing. At the same time, data is a vulnerable target for attacks, especially during transmission. That is why the future of data transmission lies in optical solutions. With laser-light data transmission systems from HENSOLDT, data can be transmitted over a distance of more than 5,000 kilometers from the earth into space and back – tap-proof and not subject to interference, in both the civilian and military sectors.
The basis is the HENSOLDT Laser Communication Terminal. Whether on land, at sea, between aircraft and satellites, or with a direct Earth-satellite link, it enables the fastest transmission rates with the highest level of security. Lightweight and compact, it can be used in both point-to-point and point-to-multipoint configurations.
In its new business field “Space Consulting,” HENSOLDT bundles its decades of experience from numerous space missions in the three core areas of product safety, system expertise, and management consulting. Specialists provide support in all technical areas of sophisticated space solutions: Systems, Optics, Electronics, Software, Thermal and Mechanical Engineering, and Manufacturing and Design.
Beyond specific applications, HENSOLDT has thus become a “hidden champion” of a wide range of space technologies and a valued partner of international space missions.