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.