German offshore launch site for small rockets clears decisive hurdle: Initial consortium founded in Bremen

Plans to build a German international spaceport are rapidly taking shape. Several partners are collaborating to start rocket launches from the German North Sea by 2023.

In the digital age, aerospace is the key to emerging technologies like autonomous driving, Industry 4.0 and big data applications. It is essential for countries to effectively evaluate and make decisions involving foreign and security policy, and also plays a major role in climate protection. The aerospace industry has become more diversified over the past several years, leading to the emergence of a number of new business models. Start-ups focused on applications with small satellites are especially booming. The commitment of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) in the field of new space shows just how significant such applications are to the entire German industrial value chain.

Three German manufacturers of small rockets, so-called microlaunchers, will enter the market in 2021/22. Germany is the European leader in this field. A launching option for microlaunchers in Germany is necessary to test German technologies and position them in the market, as well as to send small satellites to space, where they can be used for a variety of different purposes. A launch site for microlaunchers would complete this new space ecosystem, which is truly unique in Europe.

The German Offshore Spaceport Alliance GmbH (GOSA) will serve as the operating company responsible for the launch site. GOSA was founded in Bremen, which supported the idea of a launch site from the very beginning. The initiative was started by shipping group Harren & Partner, OHB Gruppe, MediaMobil GmbH and Tractebel DOC Offshore GmbH, and insurance specialist Lampe & Schwartze and logistics service provider BLG are also involved as strategic partners. GOSA would like to offer other strategic partners opportunities to get involved, whether as members or through advisory board positions.

Kristina Vogt, Senator for Economy, Labour and Europe: “We are delighted to connect our strong aerospace competencies in Bremen with our maritime competencies in Bremerhaven. The German Offshore Spaceport Alliance is starting an entirely new chapter in the history of German aerospace. This new alliance between the two strong innovation clusters in Bremen and Bremerhaven impressively demonstrates the success of Bremen’s innovation policy as a state. It capitalises on innovative industry developments and connects them with new key technologies like artificial intelligence. As a result, we helped to finance the first steps towards establishing an international spaceport in Germany.”

The German Offshore Spaceport Alliance will work quickly to further define the draft design of the spaceport. The organization also needs to collaborate with the three microlauncher manufacturers, which it aims to draw in as the first customers, and eventually long-term clients. Oliver Spalthoff, Managing Director of DOC Offshore, has been involved with spaceport studies for several months now: “Of course, we are thinking outside the box and finding inspiration in concepts from other maritime rocket launching sites. When we started the German offshore spaceport project, we agreed that we wanted to keep the costs involved as manageable as possible, and we are still working towards that goal. But there are a few requirements, including safety and environmental considerations, where the price isn’t the first consideration. This is why we need the rocket engineers’ expertise.” Today, the spaceport is primarily driven by the needs of German companies, but will be open to other rocket manufacturers after completion – and available as a European launch site for institutional missions on behalf of the European Commission.

Bremen-based shipping group Harren & Partner currently manages around 90 entities, and also owns SAL Engineering – one of the world’s largest, most innovative maritime engineering firms. “We have transported carrier rockets and their associated component parts with our heavy lift vessels for decades now – on behalf of organisations like EADS, Airbus and Sea Launch,” said Managing Director Heiko Felderhoff. “We use the “roll-on/roll-off” approach, which involves rolling or driving the load onto the ship using a special device.” Managing Director Dr Martin Harren added: “We have experienced engineers from all maritime engineering disciplines and a diversified fleet of highly specialised offshore ships. I’m thrilled and proud that we can contribute our offshore and maritime transport experience to the German Offshore Spaceport Alliance.”

The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is reviewing the next steps and necessary clearances, with results anticipated soon.

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