Frank Flechtner

It is a privilege and a distinct pleasure to write this citation for Frank Flechtner, winner of the 2019 Ivan I. Mueller Award for Distinguished Service and Leadership.

Throughout his distinguished career, Frank has personified the spirit of the Mueller Award. Even with his first project in 1988, the German Precise Range and Range-Rate Equipment (PRARE) satellite tracking system, he had a remarkable end-to-end impact, spanning deployment fieldwork, development of the master control segment, the processing and archiving facility, satellite altimetric software development, and user training and education workshops. In the 2000s, Frank was among the dedicated group working on a series of space missions during the very successful Decade of Geopotential Field Research. He served as project manager for the German gravity and magnetics mission Challenging Minisatellite Payload (CHAMP), and took responsibility for major Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) subsystems and its mission operations and the science data system in Germany. Since 2009, he served as the co–principal investigator for the GRACE mission. From this time until the end of the GRACE mission in 2017, he ensured the continued operation of the GRACE extended mission by marshalling resources for continued ground operations and science data analysis in the German mission segments. Since 2010, Frank has been instrumental in making possible the GRACE Follow-On mission, with GFZ in the lead role for managing the German contributions to this joint U.S./German space mission. His unflagging efforts for advocacy and promotion of the mission among the sponsors were key to ensuring continuity of geodetic measurements of the global mass change.

Frank’s selfless commitment to geodesy is evident from how he has nurtured the growth of his research group at GFZ and led its collaborations worldwide in space missions, instrument development, and applied sciences research. Frank has displayed exemplary leadership of numerous research and development initiatives, promotion of scientific conferences and sessions, and mentorship of students and scientists at the Technical University of Berlin and GFZ.

—Srinivas Bettadpur, Center for Space Research, University of Texas at Austin


I am honored and proud to receive the 2019 Ivan I. Mueller Award for Distinguished Service and Leadership. Thanks, Srinivas, for your wonderful citation, and everyone involved in this nomination, especially Byron Tapley and Chris Reigber, the principal investigator and initial co–principal investigator of GRACE, for always being inspiring role models for me.

Since I started working on the GRACE project in 1998, unbelievable progress has been made analyzing and applying mass transport data. Although the “E” in GRACE Follow-On still stands for “Experiment,” operational services such as the U.S. Drought Monitor meanwhile rely on the integration of total water storage data (besides other observations). In Europe, the Horizon 2020 program has recently funded a project to develop a Global Gravity-based Groundwater Product, which is managed by my institute and significantly based on GRACE/GRACE-FO mission data.

The accuracy of monthly mass transport data could be continuously improved by the joint U.S./German Science Data System since 2002 throughout several reprocessings. In parallel, the new International Combination Service for Time-variable Gravity Field Solutions (COST-G) under the umbrella of the International Association of Geodesy’s International Gravity Field Service will provide consolidated monthly global gravity models by combining solutions or normal equations from various international analysis centers, a service well known from the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) or International GNSS Service (IGS). Both will further help using gravity mission data for numerous applications in such Earth system sciences as hydrology, oceanography, glaciology, or geophysics.

I am grateful that I could support the development and operation of this unique measurement system within my career, which brought me scientific inspiration and many new friends. I am proud to be part of the GRACE family! Last but not least, I would like to thank all my colleagues in the United States and Germany who supported me on this path, as well as my family for their endless patience and support throughout these years.

—Frank Flechtner, Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, Potsdam


(2020), Flechtner receives 2019 Ivan I. Mueller Award for Distinguished Service and Leadership, Eos, 101, Published on 01 April 2020.

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