Jan Woerner was born in Kassel, Germany in 1954. He studied civil engineering at the Technical University (TU) Berlin and TU Dramstadt, from where he graduated in 1985.

In 1990, he returned to TU Dramstadt, where he was appointed as a professor of Civil Engineering and took over as Head of the Test and Research Institute. Jan Woerner headed the university from 1995 to 2007 and succeeded in making it the first autonomous university of the Federal Republic of Germany.

From March 2007 to June 2015, he served as Chairman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (DLR). He became the ESA Director General on 1 July 2015.