Mini rockets: 11 million boost for space startup Isar Aerospace


Isar Aerospace Technologies from Ottobrunn near Munich has won the main round of the “microlauncher competition” of the German Space Agency at the German Aerospace Center (DLR). Based on the selection of an expert jury, Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) named the start-up the winner of the second phase of the funding instrument on Friday.

The company receives prize money of eleven million euros. The founders and their team are supposed to be their own 27 meter long Spectrum small rocket can develop further. They are planning the first two demonstration flights by 2023 at the latest. The “microlauncher” should be able to carry up to one ton of payload into low earth orbit, at a price of around 10,000 euros per kilogram.

“Today the dawn of a new era of space travel in Europe begins!”, Announced the coordinator of the federal government for space travel, Thomas Jarzombek, on the occasion of the award ceremony. The CDU politician was confident that the next generation of missiles would be made in Europe. He is also enthusiastic about the achievements of the other two startups, also founded in 2018, which each received EUR 500,000 in start-up funding in the first round of the competition last year. These are Rocket Factory Augsburg, a subsidiary of the Bremen space company OHB, and the DLR spin-off HyImpulse.

Jarzombek sees all three companies as having the ability to develop mini-rockets, which “would offer more capacity than the first Falcon from Elon Musk’s space startup SpaceX and will be launched in the next two years”. In contrast to classic space travel, these companies developed their rockets with private money and not at the expense of taxpayers. This represents a paradigm shift.

With Spectrum, Isar Aerospace not only has a promising small carrier in its program, explained DLR Board Member Walther Pelzer. The start-up “has also presented us with a convincing concept for a viable business model that, in the opinion of the jury, can assert itself in the microlauncher market in the long term”. In general, the German start-up scene has shown “that it is competitive in the international market segment of small sponsors”.

The Competition promotes medium-sized companies from Germanywho want to commercially develop modern micro-launcher with a payload of a few hundred kilograms and offer launch services, with a total of 25 million euros. The money comes from a program of the European Space Agency ESA, which is awarded through the Ministry of Economic Affairs. HyImpulse and Rocket Factory are not out of the running yet: In the third round of the competition, they will have a second chance to win eleven million euros for their part.

The background to the realignment of the market is miniaturization, which does not stop at space technology either. Until about ten years ago, satellites were big and heavy. You should be able to carry as many different payloads as possible. The orders for this came mostly from the state. Today, more and more private space companies, especially in the USA and China, are launching satellites under the motto “New Space”. For them, the applications and services generated from their data, such as the Internet from space, are more in the foreground – and the costs.

Herz­li­chen Glück­wunsch an Isar Ae­ro­space
(Bild: DLR (CC-BY 3.0))

The Office for Technology Assessment at the Bundestag recently confirmed the German space travel and “New Space Actors Landscape” with their high-performance research and development in a studyto be “internationally well connected in the field of technical components and their production”. The potentially promising companies would, however, face innovation barriers such as a lack of risk capital, a funding system that tends to be difficult to access and legal uncertainties.