International Innovation Competition by DLR Space Administration

The INNOspace Masters 2019/20 rewards clever ideas for tomorrow’s space sector

  • The winners of the INNOspace Masters competition were announced and awarded during an online conference on 14th October 2020.
  • More than 300 companies, start-ups, universities and research institutions in 15 European countries responded to the call.
  • The new 2020/21 round of the competition is being launched with the theme “Innovations for Sustainable Infrastructure – in Space and on Earth”.
  • Areas of specialisation: Space, innovation, technology transfer

Under the theme “New Ideas between Space and Earth”, the Space Administration at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), within the fifth INNOspace Masters competition, once again was looking for new ideas and concepts designed to address current challenges in space and other sectors and offer innovative potential solutions. Participants were able to choose from tive competition categories – called ‘Challenges’ – covering different development and innovation phases along the entire value chain. The ‘DLR Space Administration Challenge’ focused on the research and development phase, while the industrial partners Airbus and OHB sought proposals for existing marketable solutions. DB Netz AG, who joined the competition this year as an additional industrial partner, focused on innovations from the space sector to monitor, inspect and maintain railway infrastructure. The ‘ESA BIC Start-up Challenge’ focused on business models and start-ups.

An innovative quantum memory wins the competition
A total of 316 participants from companies, start-ups, universities and research institutions in 15 European countries submitted their project outlines. “The fifth round of the INNOspace Master has once again shown how great the transfer potential is between space and other sectors when it comes to pioneering innovation projects,” explained Dr Walther Pelzer, Member of the Executive Board at DLR Space Administration. From all of the ideas, 15 proposals were selected for the final round of the innovation competition.  Now the winners of the competition have been chosen. “The development of important components for the broad application of quantum-based satellite communication has particularly impressed us this year and offers great potential – including for terrestrial applications,” explained Walther Pelzer, who, together with the partners of the competition, presented the awards on 14th October 2020. Accordingly, the overall winner also comes from this area: A team of scientists from TU Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin is working on an innovative quantum memory for secure satellite communication.

Wide variety of ideas at the INNOspace Masters
However, the submitted contributions did not only come from the satellite communications sector. Proposals from almost all fields of the space sector were submitted to the jury, demonstrating the broad diversity and innovative strength of the industry: “The many innovative solutions proposed in the INNOspace Masters offer great added value for the German space sector in two respects. Not only do the many spin-in ideas from other industries provide important impetus for space, but spin-off projects can also be used to exploit and commercialise existing space solutions for applications on Earth,” emphasised Thomas Jarzombek, Federal Government Coordinator of German Aerospace Policy, who presented the award for the overall winner of the INNOspace Masters.

Coronavirus brings about a digital kick-off for the next competition round
The award ceremony marked the end of the current round of the INNOspace Masters competition. At the same time, the kick-off for the next round took place at the virtual conference: Clever minds from business and science will once again have the opportunity to submit their ideas from 30th October 2020 to 5th February 2021, this time with the theme “Innovations for sustainable infrastructure – in space and on Earth”. The main theme of the conference was the potential offered by space for a sustainable future. This also includes digital infrastructure. How important this is, especially in times of coronavirus, has already become apparent in the current round of the competition. This year, the multi-stage evaluation process, in which the participants presented their ideas to various expert juries, took place purely digitally. Experience has shown that even jury sessions from home with up to 20 participants allow for exciting discussions to select the best ideas. However, the organisers hope to be able to organise in-person events again for the upcoming conference and awards ceremony in summer 2021. Personal interaction and networking are an important factor, especially when it comes to innovative project ideas.

The winning ideas in the INNOspace Masters 2019/20

QuMSeC – Quantum memories for secure communication
A team of scientists from TU Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin were able to claim the overall victory as well as winning the ‘DLR Space Administration Challenge’. The two universities worked together on innovative quantum memories for satellite communication, which are intended to set new standards for secure quantum key exchange, even for untrustworthy satellites. Customers and users without their own satellite infrastructure should therefore also be able to benefit from secure data communication via satellites in the future.

Additive manufacturing method for metallic coatings of CFRP propellant tanks
The winner of the ‘ESA BIC Challenge’, Additive Space GmbH, is developing a thermal spraying process by which metallic coatings can be applied to the inside of the CFRP structure of fuel tanks quickly and cost-effectively. The method enables several layers of metals with different material properties to be applied one after the other with the minimum required layer thickness. Apart from the spraying device, which is mounted on an industrial robot, for example, no further devices adapted to the geometry of the respective fuel tank are required.

Tikal – Remote assessment of remote traffic routes
Only 20% of the world’s road network is paved, making it particularly vulnerable to environmental, weather and vehicle-related damage. As part of the Tikal project, BAREWAYS GmbH, the winner of the ‘Airbus Challenge’, is developing a software system that can determine the current and future road condition by means of pattern recognition. For this purpose, a wide variety of data sources, such as weather forecasts, digital map information, satellite images, and vehicle sensors, are aggregated, calibrated and analysed with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). This current road condition information is made available to the vehicle navigation system together with other criteria for route planning and optimisation.

Free-form metal optics for new space applications
SPACEOPTIX GmbH, the winner of the ‘OHB Challenge’, develops and manufactures high-quality opto-mechanical components and systems made from metallic substrates. Compared to alternative materials such as glass or ceramics, these optical mirrors and mirror systems offer significantly reduced manufacturing and assembly costs and, by using free-form optical system designs, an excellent ratio between optical imaging quality, mass and volume. As a Fraunhofer IOF spin-off, the aim of SPACEOPTIX GmbH is the technology transfer of 20 years of applied research in the field of metal optics to industrial standards.

OCELL – Smart analyses of aerial imagery
According to Deutsche Bahn, heavy storms are increasingly causing millions of euros of damage to tracks and systems as well as train failures and delays. OCELL GmbH, the winner of the ‘DB Netz AG Challenge’, specialises in AI-driven analysis of aerial photography and geodata in order to collect vegetation data with the accuracy of individual trees and categorise the data according to risk classes. Data collection is carried out by the company’s own decentralised partner network of professional ultralight aircraft pilots. On the basis of these findings, trees that pose a risk to rail services, for instance, can be cut in a targeted manner as a preventative measure.

The other placings can be found on the website at   

About the INNOspace Masters ideas competition
The INNOspace Masters is organised by DLR Space Administration on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The competition is part of the INNOspace® initiative, which has been promoting innovation and technology transfers between space and non-space industries since 2013. The competition partners are the ESA Business Incubation Centres (BIC) Bavaria & Northern Germany and ESA BIC Hessen & Baden-Württemberg, as well as the industrial partners Airbus, OHB and DB Netz AG. The INNOspace Masters is organised by AZO Anwendungszentrum GmbH Oberpfaffenhofen. Further information available at:

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