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Eveline Gottzein

Eveline Gottzein (b. 1931)

German engineer and expert in control systems for satellites and high-speed trains

Affiliation: University of Stuttgart, Bölkow Entwicklungen KG (later MBB), and Airbus Group


“I was fascinated by the opportunities and determined to use them to the greatest possible extent.”


Eveline Gottzein is a German mathematician and aerospace engineer who is a specialist in the altitude and orbital control of satellites and control systems for the guidance of high-speed magnetic levitation trains. She is the first, and so far only, woman to have received the Werner von Siemens ring, one of the highest awards for technical sciences in Germany.


Developer of the AOCS systems for satellites

Early in her career, Eveline Gottzein was part of developing an advanced series of satellites designed to provide greater telecommunications capacity. As a development engineer, she worked on the first Franco-German communication satellites. Later, she established the engineering process for developing the Attitude and Orbit Control Systems (AOCS) of satellites. Using control technology in the form of attitude and orbit sensors, attitude estimation and guidance, and attitude and orbit control algorithms and actuators, the AOCS takes care of the satellite’s orientation and brings the satellite into its correct orbit whenever it happens to deviate. AOCS was first applied in the communication satellites of the Intelsat V series (Intelsat being the world’s first commercial communication satellite). The system is still in use, controlling the attitude and position of a satellite or a complete space vehicle.

Innovator of maglev trains

Parallel to her engagement in the satellite AOCS, Eveline Gottzein covered new grounds in designing and building magnetically levitated high-speed trains (maglev trains). The work included system modeling and simulation, hardware and software development, integration, and high-speed tests. In 1971, the first passenger-carrying maglev vehicle, Magnetmobil, carried 8-12 passengers at a sustained speed of 108 km/h. The Magnetmobil was levitated by electromagnets and propelled by a linear induction motor. In 1975, the maglev KOMET reached a top speed of over 400 km/h. In 1979, the first full-scale operational maglev vehicle, Transrapid 05, was put into operation at the International Transportation Exhibition in Hamburg. The levitation and guidance system of Transrapid is based on the magnet wheel concept, which Eveline Gottzein first developed in her doctoral thesis. It became the basis for all German high-speed maglev vehicles.

Other achievements

Other achievements of Eveline Gottzein include a GPS receiver for commercial spacecraft applications and the development of an attitude, rate, and position sensor based on advanced process imaging. Eveline Gottzein has also been involved in the European satellite navigation system Galileo, developing a multi-frequency global navigation satellite system (GNSS) receiver, simultaneously using information from several global navigation satellite systems.

Background and life

Challenged by the impossible

Eveline Gottzein was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1931. Already at an early age, she showed a great interest in technology. She wanted to become a glider pilot and enjoyed building model airplanes, which she did with her father, an engineer.

She finished her secondary education in 1949 but was refused entrance to the university because of her bourgeois background and the political system of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). So instead, she completed vocational training to become an electrician at Leipzig’s radio and telecommunications plant. There, she had her first encounter with control technology in the form of feedback amplifiers. An encounter that was to shape the rest of her life.

Due to diligence and talent, she was finally permitted to begin studying at the Technical University of Dresden, one of the most prestigious technical universities in the former GDR. Between 1952 and 1957, she studied electrical engineering, mathematics, and physics. After completing her studies, Eveline Gottzein fled from East Germany to West Germany. She continued her studies at the Technical University of Darmstadt. Before fleeing, she sent her most precious engineering books by mail to the west. She graduated in 1962 with a diploma in mathematics.

In a publication from the Technical University of Munich, where she was appointed Distinguished Affiliated Professor in 2011, she told the interviewer, “I’m tough, and I never give up.” These characteristics have followed her throughout her life.

Career progress

While studying, Eveline Gottzein started working as an engineer at the Electronic Associates’ European Simulation Centre in Brussels. In 1959, she joined helicopter and airplane manufacturer Bölkow Entwicklungen KG in Munich, which later became MBB and today is part of Airbus. There, she developed and led the department of control and simulation, which was gradually expanding to cover areas of guided missiles, guidance navigation and control functions (GNC) of launch vehicles, AOCS control of commercial and research satellites and magnetic levitation and guidance systems for maglev high speed trains. Her interest in the latter resulted in a PhD at the Technical University of Munich, resulting in a thesis entitled “The magnetic wheel as autonomous functional unit of modular levitation and guidance systems for Maglev trains”. She was deeply impressed by the director of Bölkow Entwicklungen KG, Ludwig Bölkow. She found his professional expertise and work ethic exemplary and was inspired by how he allowed his employees free reign, releasing their creative forces. She stayed with the company for almost 50 years.

Even after her retirement, she kept active. In 1996, she became an honorary professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Stuttgart, where she taught a course on control problems in space travel. She has also been an active teacher in the European space master’s program on space dynamics and controls and has acted as an advisor for the Airbus Defence and Space division of the Airbus group.

Patents and awards

Eveline Gottzein has been granted no less than five patents in magnetic levitation and aerospace technology fields. She has received numerous awards for her achievements. Apart from the Werner von Siemens ring for her achievements in the development of control systems for high-speed maglev trains, satellites, and other spacecraft, she was awarded the Bavarian Order of Merit, the Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art, and the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2007, at the age of 76 years, she became a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). The following year, she was appointed the first female fellow of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC).