Makes SpaceX less relevant to NASA

Space start-ups like SpaceX have bad cards in Europe

What does not exist in Germany either is a space law that regulates what private companies are allowed to do in space, which regulations they have to observe and what they are liable for. It is precisely this legal uncertainty that founders often criticize in discussions. Jarzombeks predecessor Brigitte Zypries had therefore promised such a law years ago. Now it should finally come. "However, we have to make sure that we provide a competitive framework for the company and that we do not directly regulate the delicate plant NewSpace to death," says Thomas Jarzombek.

Europe's aerospace industry, too, often criticized by start-ups for being too fragmented and geared too much towards national needs, wants to take the first small steps towards NewSpace. So far, the European Space Agency ESA has financed the development of new rockets and space probes in the traditional way, including all additional costs. At their meeting in Seville at the end of November 2019, the space ministers of the ESA countries chose a different approach for the first time, largely driven by Germany: Instead of commissioning a new, small rocket, ESA just wants to pay for its launch. The vehicle itself, a so-called microlauncher for payloads of up to one tonne, has to be developed by private companies.

"Without government contracts, you cannot create a NewSpace or a start-up ecosystem in space travel - the state is simply too important a customer for that" (Thomas Jarzombek)

No less than three German start-ups, each supported by large space companies in the background, are competing for these start-up orders - provided their rockets are ready for use by 2022: the Munich Isar Aerospace, HyImpulse from Neuenstadt am Kocher and the Rocket Factory Augsburg. Jarzombek speaks of an »initial point«, of a »test field«. But he also says: "You cannot create a NewSpace or a start-up ecosystem in space travel without government contracts - the state is simply too important a customer for that." The advertised start-up contracts are therefore not only intended to motivate and generate a possible source of income for the start -ups be. They should also show their investors that there is a potential market.

To stimulate this market, the federal government launched a German microlauncher competition in May 2020 as part of the ESA initiative. A maximum of five companies can take part, but it is tailored to the three existing start-ups - given an application deadline of only five weeks. A jury chaired by Jarzombek will then select two winners, who can each start two demonstration flights with the money from the federal government.

Is there a lack of political will?

With a budget of 50 million euros, of which Germany is taking over half, the microlauncher initiative is tiny - at least compared to other ESA programs: the ministers in Seville have approved 344 million euros for the further development of their large rockets alone. According to Jarzombek, almost four billion euros will flow into Ariane 6, Europe's future flagship, by the time the first flight takes place - and that was before the corona crisis, which postponed the first Ariane 6 flight well into 2021.

But it is not just the money that slows start-ups: One of the iron principles of the ESA is that every country receives industrial contracts for a project in exactly the same proportion as it previously contributed to the financing of the project. The expenditure for the development and construction of Ariane 6 must therefore be distributed to the 13 participating countries. A »SpaceX« model - cheap, fast and from a single source - is unthinkable with this regional proportion.