Germany’s New Space Liftoff

Germany is reaching for the stars as it embraces an increasingly vital and commercialized aerospace market. You can expect to see more and more German-based companies putting more and more satellites into orbit.

July 2021

If the recently formed consortium German Offshore Spaceport Alliance (GOSA) gets its way, the North Sea area near the
city of Bremen will become the world’s latest gateway to space. GOSA is aiming to create the first offshore launch platform for small modern carrier rockets known as micro-launchers. It aims to exploit the trend toward smaller “New Space” rockets, designed to put micro-satellites into space.

The initiative has support from the highest political levels. The national government wants to make it easier for German companies to launch satellites from domestic spaceports, while promoting innovation and bolstering Europe’s aerospace infrastructure. “The central element of German space policy is independent European access to space,” says Thomas Jarzombek, Germany’s coordinator of aerospace policy.

© picture alliance/dpa/P. Baudon

Smaller is better

With its robust aerospace industry, Germany is poised to play a major role in this new space race. It is already the main market for domestic supply-chain stakeholders. They include highly qualified experts and a network of more than 2,300 specialized companies with over 100,000 employees and annual revenues worth of EUR 30 billion.

Previously, the European Space Agency’s Ariane 6 launch system and the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana had been Europe’s primary routes into space. But now New Space initiatives from Germany are offering alternatives. Promising start-ups include HyImpulse, a spin-off from the German Aerospace Center (DLR); Isar Aerospace, founded at the Technical University of Munich; and Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), part of Bremen-based OHB, a leading space and technology group and a GOSA partner. These companies are “challenging the established space sector,” says Jarzombek, as the trend continues toward ever-smaller satellites for Earth observation, environmental and climate research, and Internet connectivity.

The Federation of German Industries (BDI) points out that some 10,000 satellites will be launched into orbit by 2028, 86 percent of which will be small-scale. They will require tailor-made infrastructure. “These satellites need a launcher and a launch site,” Jarzombek adds. “We want to open up this market for Germany.” GOSA’s planned launchpad, currently under government review, would be carried on a ship near the hub of Bremen, allowing rockets to take off vertically from the sea. Foreign investors have embraced the plan. US imaging satellite company Planet Labs acquired German geospatial information provider RapidEye in 2015. Planet’s mission control center – its largest office outside of the US – is located in Berlin, along with about a quarter of its personnel. “Planet is monitoring the development of the micro-launcher market with great interest,” says Martin Polak, Planet Lab’s director of Public Institutions Business in Berlin. “Launch has traditionally been the largest bottleneck for New Space companies like Planet Labs to build and scale their business. We would truly welcome the emergence of a micro-launcher market in Europe, as it would create additional opportunities for companies to launch spacecraft.”

A domestic spaceport would not only provide cost benefits but also allow Planet to optimize launch schedules and orbit selection, Polak explains. Currently, Planet has to rely on launch sites in the US, Russia, Kazakhstan, Japan, New Zealand, India and French Guiana.

The Bottom Line

The “New Space” movement and the miniaturization of satellites is opening up an exciting new market for start-ups and established companies. With thousands of satellites to be launched in the coming years, Germany is a location that foreign companies can’t afford to ignore.

Bremen and beyond

The DLR is also looking at other potential launch sites, such as the Rostock-Laage Airport in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Although not a floating platform, this onshore site would also allow horizontal launches from carrier aircraft.
The growth of Germany’s space sector is expected to provide ever-greater opportunities for foreign suppliers. For example, Airbus, Europe’s largest aerospace corporation, is increasingly using international supply chains.
The German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the DLR are supporting the development of micro-launchers designed to carry light payloads of just a few hundred kilograms from Earth into orbit. As part of a EUR 25 million competition fund, last year the DLR awarded HyImpulse, Isar Aerospace and RFA EUR 500,000 each for their rocket designs.
“The New Space launchers are a paradigm shift in public financing, away from the development of rockets down to the last detail and toward the commissioning of specific launch services,” Jarzombek says.

5 reasons why Germany is a stellar location for space technology companies

1.

Support

The German government has stressed the importance of the space sector and is supporting cross-industry initiatives to
enable the use of space technologies in modern society and the development of domestic spaceports.

2.

Established Hubs

From well-established aerospace clusters in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, to the “City of Space” Bremen and the
fast-growing start-up scene in Berlin, there are companies and products throughout Germany that are in global demand.

3.

Commercial Opportunities

“Space travel will be even more important in the future than it already is,” says Thomas Jarzombek, the German government’s coordinator of aerospace policy. “Above all, commercial operations will be decisive for the future.” The emerging sector known as “New Space” is going to be “really big,” Jarzombek asserts, with new players and considerable private funding.

4.

Innovation

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is promoting cutting-edge technologies such as wind-generated hydrogen to be transported, stored and used in fuel cells for rocket testing and other vital applications.

5.

Industry Demand

Plans for a floating spaceport are broadly supported by German industry, including the leading space technology group OHB, satellite communications firm MediaMobil, offshore wind farm specialist Tractebel DOC Offshore, BLG Logistics Group and shipping company Harren & Partner.

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