A column by Marco Fuchs: thoughts about time and space

Bremen consolidating its “City of Space” reputation as the host of the IAC 2018

The IAC in Bremen is the highlight of the Space Year



September 20, 2018. Bremen’s “Sternstunden 2018” space year is approaching its climax. In a few days’ time, IAC 2018 will be opening its doors in the Hanseatic city to welcome thousands of visitors from all over the world. I am personally very pleased for the city that the world’s largest congress touching on all areas and aspects of space travel is taking place in Bremen for the second time since 2003. In a way, this is an accolade for the city as I think that the choice was entirely fitting for my hometown. Although Bremen is not a world-size city, this is irrelevant in this case. What counts as far as IAC is concerned is the important role that Bremen plays in space travel. And seen in this light, it is second to none on an international scale. I can think of only a few places anywhere in the world where there is a comparable concentration of leading industrial companies, renowned research institutes and high-class training and further education institutions in space travel at a single location.

In 2018 alone, we will be recruiting more than 200 new employees in Bremen

This is not least of all one reason why OHB is not only committed with great conviction to its original and main location, but has also been continuously expanding it for many years on a sustained basis. In 2018 alone, we will be recruiting more than 200 new employees in Bremen and also continuing to expand the infrastructure of our campus. Between now and 2020 we will be investing around EUR 20 million in a new integration hall, laboratories and building extensions. Our Company’s good order situation and the prospects of further lucrative projects in the coming years make these measures necessary. Hopefully, however, our success will also have an impact on other institutions and facilities in Bremen. We work with the excellent research institutions and the universities of Bremen. Most recently, we signed an official partnership agreement with a grammar school in order to arouse at a very early stage young people’s interest in aerospace and what we at OHB are doing in this industry.

Many of these topics will soon be on display at our stand at the Bremen fair ground as well as in lectures and in panel discussions. A good 70 representatives from all across the OHB Group will be attending IAC, holding a total of 55 presentations and hosting four global networking forums organized by OHB. These figures fill me with pride, as they testify to the skills that our Company possesses and to the variety of interests that it pursues. They also show that the expertise held by space engineers from Bremen is in demand worldwide. Further proof of this can also be seen in the fact that the EU Commissioner responsible for aerospace as well as the new NASA Director James Bridenstine will be paying us a visit. I am really looking forward to this discussion as it will reveal what the future holds for transatlantic cooperation in the space sector.

Climate change and environmental pollution have reached a threatening level

At IAC, we want to focus on earth observation and exploration. I am convinced that both topics will be making a key contribution to answering questions concerning the future of our planet and, hence, also of humanity. This is because our earth is being exposed to extreme stress resulting from human influence on the environment, the climate and the quality of air, soil and water: Climate change and environmental pollution have reached a threatening level. Earth observation satellites can help us to detect these changes at an early stage so that we can make the steps needed to rectify them. But they also help us to make better use of the available resources – for example by enabling farmers to fertilize or irrigate their fields more precisely and thus gain greater yields from their crops. These are just a few examples of what earth observation systems can do. Yet, there are many, many more. I firmly believe that the next generation of Earth observation systems will have a very massive impact on how we humans treat the Earth. Simply because it will then be possible to demonstrate cause and effect to a much greater extent than today and to identify the origins of undesirable developments.

But the topic of exploration will also be of greater concern to us in the future. Firstly, because missions such as ExoMars, in which OHB is playing a major role, could potentially lead to the discovery of extraterrestrial life – and thus rekindle human imagination about what still remains to be discovered out there in the vast expanses of space. The PLATO mission, on which our Company is also working as the prime contractor, could be very helpful in this regard. For the first time, a satellite will make it possible to actually see exoplanets because it will be able to photograph them, something that has previously not been possible. However, PLATO will only identify planets that orbit around their sun at a distance similar to Earth and are thus potentially capable of sustaining life of a type that can be conceived of by humankind. Admittedly, this is a very abstract idea, which is why PLATO is also a scientific mission; but it very much tests limits of human imagination – and of course the limits of what is technically feasible. I am extremely pleased that we will be signing the contract for this unique project together with our partners at IAC.

Projects and studies dealing with the dangers from space for the earth – such as meteorites and asteroids – have already made considerable progress. The HERA mission on which OHB is currently working, will be exploring the twin “Didymos” asteroids, for example, to determine how strong the impact would need to be in order to sufficiently nudge an object off a collision course with the earth. The probability of such a situation occurring is far greater than many people realize. According to estimates, there are millions of objects in space with a diameter of 5 to 500 meters which could potentially enter a collision course with the earth. However, we are aware of only a tiny proportion of these. This is why our subsidiary OHB Italia is building a telescope known as “Fly Eye” in a contract for ESA. Starting in 2019, it will be scanning space for such objects from its location in Sicily. Together with a study to examine how “space weather” in the form of solar storms can be predicted more reliably, OHB is thus working on a whole series of projects aimed at protecting the earth more effectively in the future.

All in all, I am very confident that this year’s IAC will give us valuable new insights into where space travel is headed, what new technologies we want to use for this purpose and what goals we want to set for future new missions. Much of this will be explored in greater detail at the next IAC in 2019, which will be taking place in Washington to mark the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing.

Personal details:

Born in 1962, Marco Fuchs studied law in Berlin, Hamburg and New York. He worked as an attorney in New York and Frankfurt am Main from 1992 to 1995. In 1995, he joined OHB, the company that his parents had built up. He has been Chief Executive Officer of OHB SE since 2000 and of OHB System AG since 2011. Marco Fuchs is married and has two children.