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Germany is Competing with Major US Firms in Manufacturing Mini Launchers for Small Satellites

German startups to rival SpaceX with mini satellite launchers

Germany has entered the private space race a little late, hoping to profit on a surge in micro launchers for small satellites and compete with major American firms like SpaceX.

The German Space Agency at DLR announced its micro launcher competition on May 15, 2020, to ensure that German start-ups profit from this global ‘New Space’ development. A jury of specialists has chosen the first winner in the main round of the competition, which was revealed on April 30, 2021.

With a total of 25 million euros from the German contribution to ESA’s launcher program, the micro launcher competition is assisting three German start-ups in the development and commercial operation of small launch systems. The competition includes the technical design of a launcher service and economic and financial elements to develop and implement viable business models.

The teams from Neuenstadt am Kocher-based HyImpulse Technologies GmbH, Munich-based Isar Aerospace Technologies, and Augsburg-based Rocket Factory qualified for the competition’s main round in July 2020.

ESA awarded the first three contracts at 500,000 euros each to three German SMEs on November 3, 2020. The ESA contracts were made possible thanks to Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) financing at ESA’s Space19+ Council at Ministerial Level in Seville in November 2019. In 2018, HyImpulse, Isar Aerospace, and Rocket Factory Augsburg were all founded.

The field of spaceflight is undergoing a significant shift. Satellites were meant to be enormous and heavy until around ten years ago to carry as many diverse payloads as feasible. The majority of the orders for such satellites came from government clients. Satellites are being launched by an increasing number of private space enterprises. These businesses are more concerned with the applications and services that satellite data may provide and the expense of getting it. “Today, we have made a critical step toward establishing ourselves as leaders in spaceflight,” Jarzombek remarked.

At its development location in Kiruna, Sweden, German company Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) conducted the first successful test of its “RFA One” rocket, firing the engine for eight seconds.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin also use the rocket’s “staged combustion” technique, although it has yet to be deployed in Europe.

It permits “30 percent more payload to be sent into orbit,” according to RFA operations director Joern Spurmann. Another German company, HyImpulse of Baden-Württemberg, grabbed headlines in May with a 20-second engine test on the Shetland Islands, which used a candle-wax-based fuel to maximize the efficiency.

According to Isar Aerospace, the mini-launcher market will expand to “more than 30 billion euros by 2027,” with small and medium-sized satellites accounting for around a third of that.

These small satellites, weighing just a few hundred kilos, are insignificant compared to the machines weighing up to ten tonnes that are launched into orbit by the European Space Agency’s Ariane rockets.

“A large rocket is like a long-distance bus which drops all its passengers at the same stop. Micro-launcher works like a taxi, placing the satellites exactly where the client wants them,” explained Christian Schmierer of HyImpulse.

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