Interview: Walter Paeffgen, Managing Director at DLR GfR mbH

PaeffgenPrior to exhibiting at Space Tech Expo Europe, we spoke Walter Paeffgen, Managing Director at DLR GfR, about his role, changes in the industry and the show this October. 

After Walter finished his university studies in electrical engineering and cybernetics in 1987, he worked as a satellite operations engineer at DLR. Twenty years later, Walter was founding managing director for the new company DLR GfR, which grew from 20 to 160 people within eight years. He was responsible for the set-up of the satellite operations and ground infrastructure teams and for Galileo satellite operations. Walter earned profound knowledge and experience in the satellite navigation sector. His company achieved last year the 10 years EU contract from the Galileo Service Operator Spaceopal for the operation of the Galileo satellite constellation.

Please tell us about your current role. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities?

I am managing director of DLR GfR mbH, a company of the German Aerospace Center, DLR. Since March this year I am the speaker of the DLR GfR management board, focusing on corporate communication, business development and navigation services. I place special emphasis on the development of Galileo User Services.


What inspired you to join/start this company?

The company was founded especially for the purpose of operating the Galileo constellation. The position as managing director has provided the opportunity to develop a company within a few years. The task to control a satellite constellation was challenging. I was in our company responsible for this operational task and our company managed it successfully. I assessed satellite navigation already at the beginning as a key technology following the internet, and the mobile communication and the smartphone revolution. Knowledge of the position is nowadays a must for many applications. We can also benefit from the excellent research and development activities taking place at our mother company DLR.


What do you think sets your company apart from your competitors?

Unique to our company (which runs a Satellite Control Center) is that we hold a certificate as Air Navigation Service Provider with stringent requirements on a safety management system. Our flexible international personnel have a well-established and proven background in Galileo Satellite Operations.


What are the key opportunities and challenges your company faces at present?

Currently, we focus on the fulfilment of our service-level agreement for the Galileo Service Operations for the benefit of European citizens. This background enables us to combine our space expertise with the aviation challenges. We believe that in the future the traffic management and control of spacecraft, airplanes, drones, cars, trains and vessels will be merged, because they will interface with one another. With our footprint we provide valuable solutions in this sector. Satellite navigation will play an increasing role in the lives of humans. Our task will be to foster its usability by removing GNSS threats, where it is possible. Many application areas will rely on proper navigation services. For instance, aircraft landing systems will depend on GNSS solutions. In order to facilitate the process we expect a combination of SBAS and GBAS as essential.


Are there any new technology developments that you are working on at the moment? Can you tell us about them?

We don’t develop technologies, but we apply technologies to future trends in the aeronautics sector on the basis of our knowledge in space applications. Therefore we created our motto, “Air meets Space”. Consultancy and engineering for the use of satellite navigation systems in safe landing and taking-off of aircrafts is the current technology driver in our portfolio.


What would you say most excites you about your role?

Most exciting is the possibility to apply or facilitate new technology coming from the space sector and used in other areas. I work on the edge of a key technology and we shape the future. We will use this knowledge to enter the next step, the combined control of different vehicles, which transport people or goods.


How do you think the industry will develop within the next five years? Can you tell us about the key trends emerging?

Drones manned or unmanned will play an imminent role in future life. Drones will increase exponentially. This is a benefit for all, but it also creates problems that have to be solved. Our company concentrates in the new business for this technology. We provide manufacturer independent consultancy and engineering service for drone detection systems at critical infrastructures.


What do you hope to achieve at the show this year, and what connections do you hope to make?

With our activities in the air-meets-space sector and our background of satellite navigation, we are looking of course for customers but also want to raise awareness among the aeronautical and space community for the future challenges in traffic control. We want to be connected to opinion makers and deciders.

DLR GfR will be exhibiting at Space Tech Expo Europe 2017 in stand E50