Four European manufacturers of rocket and space exploration projects have signed a MoU with the German Offshore Spaceport Alliance (GOSA), aimed at launching micro rockets in the North Sea into near-to earth orbit (CargoForwarder, 31JAN21). The pace taken by the initiators is remarkable since the first rocket is scheduled to lift off in 2023 already.
The infrastructure needed to start the project is largely in place. Its centerpiece is a vessel named Combi-Lift Ship. It resembles a large floating dock equipped with brackets and clamps to transport the rockets safely from the seaport of Bremen/Bremerhaven to the launching site located 30 or 40 kilometers off the coastline. “For each mission, the ship is reconfigured because the rockets are different depending on the specific task, and require different care prior to their launch,” explains Sabine von der Renke, spokesperson of GOSA.
Screenshot from the original video. (Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGtJVm_Ie1E )
The floating box serves multiple purposes
Once “Combi-Lift” has reached the stipulated launch position in the North Sea, the rocket is moved from the horizontal to a vertical position and shot into space right after. The ship then returns to the berth in Bremen/Bremerhaven to be prepared for the next launch mission.
According to Sabine, rockets fitting the Combi-Lift Ship’s launching box can be up to 30 meters in height, accommodating a satellite weighing up to one ton. Currently, the most suitable areas of the North Sea qualifying to become the future Skyport are being mapped. This excludes any geographical proximity to frequented maritime shipping lanes to practically rule out collision risks.
Various driving factors
“A final decision on the site that suits best is still pending,” Ms. von der Renke confirms. It 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.
The entire concept is primarily driven by economic considerations, but also technical and political aspects play an important role. In contrast to the USA, Russia, or China, heavily populated Europe does not have a launch site for rockets within its own geographical sphere of influence, despite being home to renowned heavyweights such as Airbus, Leonardo, Thales Alenia, MT Aerospace, or BAE Systems, belonging to the global leaders in space technology.
High demand for Micros
According to data identified by Euroconsult and the German industry association BDI, the economic prospects for micro satellites are bright. Until 2028, roughly 10,000 satellites are expected to be launched into orbit, of which 86% are categorized as small and lightweight. Asked by CargoForwarder Global, Frank Zuehlke of the North German Chambers of Commerce and Industry, who strongly supports the North Sea projects, says: “There is a high scientific and commercial demand for these specific celestial objects, for instance 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.” He adds to this that “a launch site next door” would enable the German and European industry to capture a substantial part of this future market.
This is also the view of these rocket producers: Skyrora Ltd. of Scotland, Dutch firm T-Minus Engineering, and both German space vehicles specialists HyImpuls Technologies and Rocket Factory. All 4 have now inked the MoU with GOSA.
Final remark from Peter Altmayer, German Secretary of Commerce: “space is a dynamic growth market,” the politician indirectly applauded the North Sea initiative.
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