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DLR Design Challenge 2023: Innovating the Skies to Restore Internet Connectivity

Ensuring uninterrupted communication is crucial in an era where climate change intensifies natural disasters. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) recognized this pressing need and introduced the DLR Design Challenge 2023. It urges students to design aircraft capable of restoring internet connectivity during calamities.

The Sentinel System Triumphs

Foto: © DHBW Ravensburg/The Sentinel System. Source: Hamburg Aviation

The Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (DHBW) Ravensburg team secured the contest’s coveted first prize for their groundbreaking concept, The Sentinel System. Judging took place at the symposium held in August 2023 at the DLR Institute of System Architectures in Aeronautics in Hamburg and the DLR Institute of Aerodynamics and Flow Technology in Braunschweig. This system stood out for its robust design, adept for year-round operation even in extreme conditions. Aiming for the drone to fly by 2040, the team envisions a swift deployment from a dedicated base.

The Power of Diverse Thought

DLR Executive Board Chair Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla remarked on the unique designs, “The DLR Design Challenge shows how innovations can be created with different approaches, diversity, and variety.” Each design showcased diverse aerodynamic concepts and propulsion systems, proving that innovations arise when young minds tackle societal challenges.

Markus Fischer, DLR Divisional Board Member for Aeronautics, applauded the high levels of innovation displayed by the participants. “That alone is a great success,” he said. Fischer also lauded the choice of this year’s challenge, emphasizing its relevance and applauding student enthusiasm surrounding the theme.

Beyond Mere Connectivity

The core challenge involved creating an airborne system that restores internet connectivity across vast expanses and conducts Earth observation. Designs needed to blend efficiency, prompt response, and a vision for 2040 implementation.

The DLR Design Challenge is now in its seventh year. It begins with a kick-off in March and culminates in a final showdown in August. Top teams present their innovations at prestigious conferences. These include the German Aerospace Congress and the European Aeronautics Science Network International Conference.

Celebrating Young Innovators

25 students across five teams showcased their genius this year. Here’s a glimpse into the top entries:

  1. DHBW Ravensburg – ‘The Sentinel System’: Powered by a 78-kilowatt piston engine and sporting a high-aspect-ratio wing, this aircraft can fly for 50 hours. Designed with meticulous navigation for autonomous operation, it promises performance even in adverse weather. Team: Lara Obert, Erwin Aust, and more.
  2. University of Stuttgart – PERSEUS: This unique design combines hydrogen fuel cells, batteries, and supercapacitors to power 22 Electric Ducted Fans. Its ability to take off and land vertically makes it stand out. Team: Abhishek Anil, Alexander Hennemann, and more.
  3. RWTH Aachen University – HEIKE: A solar-powered marvel, HEIKE can fly continuously by leveraging solar energy storage during the day and releasing it at night.Team: Lars Neveling, Johannes Götz, and more.

Other notable entries included AirLive from TU Dresden, focusing on aerodynamic efficiency. Also a stand-out is Prometheus from Trier University of Applied Sciences with its unique kite configuration.

The DLR Design Challenge 2023 is a testament to young minds’ incredible potential when steered toward solving pressing global challenges. These students are shaping tomorrow with a vision for the future and a passion for innovation.

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