Capitalism in space: The German smallsat rocket startup company Isar Aerospace has won its first launch contract, to place an Airbus Earth observation satellite using its new Spectrum rocket.
Isar is one of three new German rocket companies competing for the smallsat market that all hope to launch for the first time next year.
Along with Rocket Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse Technologies, the three startups are competing as part of the German Space Agency DLR’s microlauncher competition.
The competition, which is being run in conjunction with ESA [European Space Agency], will award one of the three startups with 11 million euros ($13 million) in funding later this year. The funding is to be used to support a qualification flight that will carry a payload for a university or research institution for free. A second prize of 11 million euros in funding will then be awarded in 2022 as the final stage of the competition.
In evaluating the three startups, the DLR panel of judges will examine the technical aspects and commercial feasibility of each launcher. As a result, each startup’s success in securing funding and signing launch contracts will play a role in their chance of winning the competition.
Rocket Factory has also won a launch contract, with that commercial launch set for 2024.
Note how ESA is shifting its approach. Previously it focused its commercial effort entirely within the government-controlled Arianespace company. Now it is awarding competitive contracts to independent private companies. It appears that the ESA, like NASA, is adopting the recommendations put forth in my policy paper Capitalism in Space. It no longer wants to be the company but is instead acting as a customer looking for a product to buy.
Hopefully more than one of these three German companies will succeed, so that the competition will increase. That in turn will force prices down while encouraging greater innovation.
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