TUM – Technical University of Munich Menu

Geodesy at TUM:

A way into space travel

 Anna Purkhauser
After completing her doctorate in Geodesy at TUM, Anna Purkhauser is planning to venture into the aerospace industry. (Photo: Maren Willkomm)
Measuring the earth is also essential for space travel. At TUM, in the new faculty, Geodesy is thus inseparable from the topics of aviation and space travel. Anna Purkhauser, who currently pursuing her doctorate in this field, is working on the simulation of future satellite missions.

Anna, what is Geodesy anyway?

Anna Purkhauser: Geodesy is all about measuring and mapping the earth. At TUM, we have several different departments that focus on the topic, but from quite different perspectives – for example engineering geodesy, remote sensing, i.e. the evaluation of satellite images, photogrammetry, astronomical and physical geodesy, also known as theoretical geodesy, which is my department.

What are you working on for your doctoral thesis?

I'm working on simulations of possible gravity field missions, satellite missions to measure the Earth's gravitational field and its changes. Satellite measurements allow us to draw many conclusions about the physical form of the earth and also to detect changes. Currently, there is the GRACE follow-on mission with two satellites traveling in succession. There are differences in the gravitational pull – leading to constant changes in their distance to each other, which we observe with high precision. These distances tell us a lot.

What, for example?

We gather information on what is happening on Earth, underneath the satellites. For example, the glaciers and the polar caps are melting – and there is a groundwater withdrawal taking place in India.

That sounds interesting. What do you like most about Geodesy?

I find it especially fascinating that Geodesy is all about evaluating and then interpreting completely objective numbers. First, there is just a big mess – but if we organize and evaluate it all, we can derive very precise statements.

What do students have to expect if they decide to study Geodesy?

At TUM, Geodesy is a very small specialist field. We only have about 30 to 50 students, so the student-staff ratio is exceptional, and everyone knows everyone – creating a very pleasant research environment. In the course of study, you'll be dealing with aspects of Physics, Mathematics, and Computer Science, with a focus on a practical field of application. Chemistry is of no real interest, which was one of the reasons I chose that course of studies (laughs).

What options are there for after graduation, and what are your plans?

Basically, you can work in many fields after graduation. One possibility is to work for the state, as a surveyor, meaning that you're out and about a lot. Otherwise, you'll be sitting in front of the computer a lot. As a geodesist, you can also venture into the automotive industry to conduct research on autonomous driving. Or you can work with geoinformation systems, evaluating satellite image data – in public service as well as in the private sector. Personally, I would love to venture into the space industry after my doctorate.

(Interview: Sabrina Czechofsky)

TUM recently founded the new Department of Aerospace and Geodesy focusing on the space program of the Bavarian State Government. For this purpose, TUM's traditional aerospace research was combined with satellite navigation, earth observation, and basic geodetic disciplines.

Anna Purkhauser (29), who is from the Mühlviertel in Austria, studied Geodesy at the Graz University of Technology. In 2015, she came to TUM for her doctorate. In her free time, Anna likes to go on trips with her VW bus or to go climbing in the mountains.