German rocket startup raises $168 million in private investment capital

The German rocket startup Isar Aerospace has raised $168 million in new private investment capital, bringing the total it has raised to $310 million.

At present the company is targeting the second half of this year for the first launch of its Spectrum rocket, lifting off from a new spaceport in Norway.

Isar is one of three German rocket startups, with the other two Rocket Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse Technologies. Both Isar and Rocket Factory are getting close to launch.

German rocket startup Isar Aerospace gets first American customer

The German rocket startup Isar Aerospace, which hopes to complete the first launch of its Spectrum rocket this year, has signed its first launch contract with an American company, the satellite broker and space tug company Spaceflight.

U.S.-based launch services provider Spaceflight said Jan. 25 it has booked a dedicated launch in 2026 from Isar Aerospace, the German rocket developer aiming to perform the first test flight of its Spectrum vehicle this year. The mission is slated to lift off from Isar’s launchpad in Andøya, Norway, to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

Their agreement also includes an option for an additional dedicated launch in 2025, which Isar chief commercial officer Stella Guillen told SpaceNews could also use a launchpad it is developing at the Guiana Space Center near Kourou, French Guiana.

Spaceflight has been scrambling to find rockets for its tugs, since SpaceX announced in March 2022 it would no longer carry them. It signed a deal with Arianespace to fly on its Vega rocket, but launch failures have delayed its launch.

Isar is one of three German rocket startups vying for business. The race to be the first to launch remains very tight.

Orbital tug company signs launch agreement with German rocket startup Isar Aerospace

The German rocket startup company, Isar Aerospace, has now signed a launch agreement with a French orbital tug company, Exotrail, to put multiple tugs into orbit over a five year period.

The companies announced Nov. 3 they signed a launch services agreement to launch Exotrail’s spacevan vehicle on Isar’s Spectrum rocket on multiple missions between 2024 and 2029. The launches will take place from Andøya, Norway, and Kourou, French Guiana. The companies did not disclose a specific number of launches or the value of the agreement.

Exotrail will apparently act as the agent to get the satellite customer by providing that customer transportation to the desired orbit after deployment from Isar’s rocket.

This is the second orbital tug launch contract that Isar has won, with the first from the Italian company D-Orbit. Both deals will fly on Isar’s rocket Spectrum, which it hopes to launch for the first time next year.

Isar Aerospace signs deal to launch from French Guiana

Capitalism in space: The German smallsat rocket startup Isar Aerospace has now signed a deal with the French space agency CNES to use one of its launchpads in French Guiana for launches of its new Spectrum rocket.

The Diamant pad was built more than a half-century ago for the French rocket of the same name, but has been dormant for decades. CNES is now working to convert the facility into a multi-user site for small launch vehicles, and Isar is the first company the agency selected in an open competition to use the site.

Isar also has a deal to launch from Norway. As recently as seven months ago the company was claiming its first test launch would occur there before the end of ’22. All told, Isar has three different launch contracts and has raised almost $200 million in investment capital.

German smallsat rocket startup signs orbital tug startup as launch customer

Capitalism in space: Isar, one of three German smallsat rocket companies hoping to launch their own rockets, has won a launch contract from D-Orbit, one of three companies building orbital space tugs designed to provide in-orbit transportation to cubesats.

Isar Aerospace announced today that it has entered into a firm launch services agreement with space infrastructure pioneer D-Orbit. The company’s launch vehicle Spectrum, which is developed for small and medium satellites and satellite constellations, will launch D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carrier as a primary customer to a Sun-synchronous orbit from its launch site in Andøya, Norway with a launch term starting in 2023.

This is Isar’s third launch contract. The company has also raised almost $200 million in investment capital in the past year and a half.

Isar Aerospace wins $11.3 million in EU innovation competition

Capitalism in space: The German rocket startup company Isar Aerospace has won the first place $11.3 million prize in the European Innovation Council Horizon Prize in the category of low-cost rockets.

Isar was one of three finalists for the prize announced earlier this month by the European Commission, along with another German small launch vehicle developer, Rocket Factory Augsburg, and Spanish company Payload Aerospace, which is working on a reusable small launcher. Those three came from an initial pool or more than 15 applicants, Breton said at a ceremony during the conference to announce the winner.

Isar hopes to launch its rocket, called Spectrum, late this year.

Whether this contest marks the beginning of an open and competitive launch industry in Europe remains unclear. Apparently the EU is thinking of creating what it calls the “European Space Launcher Alliance,” which — from the vague descriptions of it as well as the reservations expressed by Isar officials — might force independent companies to cater their actions to the needs of the larger rocket companies, like Airbus and ArianeGroup. This quote suggests the thinking of those larger companies:

“We understand how important it is for Europe to grab and keep leadership,” said Morena Bernardini, vice president of strategy at ArianeGroup. “This is possible only if industry is pushing in one direction.” [emphasis mine]

If I was a new startup, the highlighted words from this powerful established big space company would worry me enormously. Who decides what that “one direction” is? And what if different companies want to approach rocketry differently?

German startup rocket company raises $75 million

Capitalism in space: The German startup rocket company Isar Aerospace announced today that it has raised $75 million, bringing the total in private investment capital it has obtained to $180 million.

The initial funding had funded construction of their Spectrum smallsat rocket. This new funding the company says will be used to expand their manufacturing and to begin work on making their rocket reusable.

Spectrum, the rocket Isar is developing, is a two-stage vehicle designed to place up to 1,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit. The vehicle is powered by Aquila engines that the company is also building.

Guillen said the company is preparing to start tests of the full Aquila engine soon on a test stand in Kiruna, Sweden. Isar is also working on a launch site in Norway, having signed an agreement in April with Andøya Space for exclusive use of a pad at a new site under development by the state-owned launch site operator.

A first launch of Spectrum from Andøya is expected in the second half of 2022, she said. The company expects to conduct three to four launches in 2023, with a long-term goal of about 10 launches per year. While Andøya is well-suited for launches to sun-synchronous orbits, Isar is considering alternative launch sites, such as French Guiana, for missions to lower inclination orbits.

Isar is one of three German smallstat rocket company startups, and appears from all accounts to be ahead of the other two, Rocket Factory Augsburg and HyImpulse Technologies, in funding and development.

There is some long term historical context to these German rocket companies. Following World War II, Germany was forbidden to build such things, both legally and culturally, as rockets too closely resemble the V2 rocket used by Hitler to bomb Great Britain. Even when Germany joined the European Space Agency as a partner the rocket building was left mostly to the French and the Italians.

This has now changed, partly because the rockets are small, partly because Europe has been shifting to the capitalism model in its space industry, partly because the memories from World War II have faded, and partly because ESA’s subsized effort at Arianespace to build a new low-cost replacement for its Ariane 5 rocket has not been successful. The Ariane 6 costs too much, and is thus not garnering customers from within ESA.

I think it will be really great to start listing separate European private companies in my launch race updates. Doing so will only emphasize the global acceleration of the competition to get into space.

German smallsat rocket startup wins launch contract

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.