Launchers with satellites on board could soon take to orbit from a mobile platform in the middle of the North Sea, 300 km off the German coastal line. The project has prominent supporters, including the Association of German Industries (BDI), the company Berlin Space Technologies, and Germany’s first listed space and technology company OHB SE. Tentative support of the scheme can also be heard from EU politicians.
Big projects sometimes start quite small, which also applies to this vision of an offshore launching platform for European spaceships in the North Sea. According to current plans, the spaceport
is to be located about 300 km (200 miles) within Germany’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which covers a large part of the sea. Within this area of influence, international law permits littoral
states to set up offshore projects that comply with environmental standards.
A mobile missile launching site is consistent with these standards, supporters of the project maintain. Their launch ramp concept is driven by commercial, technical, but also political considerations: In contrast to Russia, the USA, or China, Europe does not have a launch site for rockets within its own geographical sphere of influence, despite being home to renowned companies such as Airbus, belonging to the global leaders in space technology.
Small beats large
However, a second aspect that is becoming increasingly important is more convincing: the steep rise in demand for smaller launchers that can carry mini satellites into orbit. According to a recent study published by the industry association BDI, almost 10,000 satellites are expected to be launched by 2028, of which 86% are categorized as small and light weight. “There is a high commercial and scientific need for these specific celestial objects, for example to capture climate data, improve weather research and forecasts, optimize telecommunications and data transmission, or to measure sea level rise and the impact on coastal regions,” holds manager Frank Zuehlke of the North German Chambers of Commerce and Industry. He adds to this that “a launch site next door” would enable the national and European industry to capture a substantial part of this future market.
Satellites on the rise
At the same time, the proponents concede that without government subsidies, the project has no chance of realization. Following the initial phase, however, they advocate a commercial use model that generates a surplus.
By 2026, with the end of the publicly funded start-up phase, the project should be self-sustaining. The initiators estimate prices in the region of 600,000 euros for the launch of a satellite offshore. In terms of cost, this would make the North Sea platform the cheapest in a global comparison. Ultimately, however, Mr. Zuehlke admits, it is politics that decides on the project and not favorable financial projections.
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