Germany spotted space satellite launchpad in North Sea


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image CaptionElon Musk leads SpaceX commercial launch

The German government is studying a proposal by the German industry to build a mobile launchpad for satellites in the North Sea.

Under the plan, small satellites weighing up to one ton will be launched with German-made rockets.

No site has been selected yet, but it will be in the Economic Zone of Germany.

The Federation of German Industry (BDI) is lobbying the project, German media reports. It will be a public-private partnership.

German media quoted the BDI proposal as saying “a German launchpad is technically feasible and makes strategic and economic sense”.

The heavy reliance on satellites in the digital economy – for new technologies such as self-driving cars – makes space projects attractive for start-ups.

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The German proposal includes three German start-ups, including Iser Aerospace at Ottobrun near Munich, which is developing a two-stage 27-meter (89 ft) rocket. It is planned to be launched next year.

One of the company’s advisors, former vice president at Space X, Bullent Altan, is a space services firm led by US tech billionaire Elon Musk.

The platform envisaged will not be built by the European Space Agency for a sort-of booster rocket used at the Kauru launch site in French Guiana. Rather, these would be “mini rockets”.

Rocket for a small market

I have lost the number of companies worldwide trying to develop small rockets. But this is a stampede.

There is an upsurge in compact satellites powered by low-cost, small-scale electronics – and all of these spacecraft are looking for orbit rides.

They can, and do, go up as swarms – 30-60 at a time – on large rockets. But this often means waiting on the readiness of others, and going to classes that are a compromise for everyone involved, rather than the ideal class for your particular mission.

Hence the push for smaller, agile rockets that may be more responsive to the needs of this market. Northern European states such as Britain, Norway and Sweden are all in the game, and the German government, too, has indicated its intention to give preference to a home-grown microlearning sector.

Why go for a sea based rocket pad? If you do not have a large land area away from population centers, this is a safe option, should a vehicle fail in flight and fall back to Earth.

The state of the northern seas also opens a clean shot at the type of orbit that most of these new satellites want to receive, going around the pole from Earth to pole.

The idea is to infuse an initial investment of € 30m (£ 27m; $ 35m) for the German government, after which, it is hoped, the North Sea Launchpad will become commercially profitable.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmeier has spoken favorably about Germany developing its own space launch facility.

But German media say the BDI scheme could create political friction with European partners who have similar ambitions as the European Union, Norway and Sweden.

Media caption“We are planning a weekly rocket launch,” says Peter Beck.

Related topics

  • Germany

  • Space exploration
  • The European Union
  • communications satellites
  • European Space Agency