“What a story, what an opportunity!” The words with which the FDP MP Hauke Hinz wreathed a project in the Bremen citizenship that he himself said sounded “like something out of science fiction seem almost enthusiastic -Movie”. But planning a spaceport in the North Sea is more than a utopia.
Four companies in Bremen want to make it a reality that have now set up a consortium: the German Offshore Spaceport Alliance GmbH, Gosa for short. The satellite manufacturer OHB, the marine technology company Tractebel Doc Offshore, the satellite and radio technology company Media Mobil and the shipping company Harren und Partner have a stake in that company with 25 percent each. The logistics service provider BLG and the insurance group Lampe & Schwartze, both also based in Bremen, want to support the project.
They all hope that small rockets, so-called microlaunchers, will launch for the first time in 2023 about 250 kilometers northwest of the East Frisian island of Borkum. Launched from aboard a ship, they could transport small satellites weighing up to a ton into space. They can be used in a variety of ways: Earth observations for agriculture are included, navigation tasks in the field of logistics, assistance with autonomous driving and climate research, to name just a few examples. Bremerhaven is to be the base port for the ships that serve as launch platforms.
Missile launches in the North Sea are “strategically and economically sensible,” emphasizes the Federation of German Industries (BDI). He has presented a strategy paper for the German government’s spaceport. According to an information from the lobby association, the project can be implemented within two years “in the form of a private-sector operator model with state support.” The state does not have to participate in the purchase, conversion or operation of the project. “Instead, a grant from the federal government would be necessary for the initial costs in the initial phase,” writes the association. According to current calculations, such a “start-up investment” requires around 30 million euros from the tax bag. The operation of the platform would be paid for by the respective users, i.e. the clients of the rocket launches.
The BDI estimates that by 2028 alone, almost 10,000 satellites will be launched into space worldwide, 86 percent of them small satellites. According to the industry association, this development is also changing the need for launch vehicles. There are currently three companies in Germany developing microlauncher: Isar Aerospace in Ottobrunn, Bavaria, HyImpulse from Neuenstadt (Baden-Württemberg) and the OHB subsidiary Rocket Factory in Augsburg.
The majorities of the state parliaments and the governments of Bremen and Lower Saxony are just as optimistic as the industry association. In the Hanseatic city, economics senator Kristina Vogt (Linke) said she was delighted with the founding of Gosa that the “competencies in space travel in Bremen are being combined with the maritime competencies in Bremerhaven”. Her cabinet colleague Claudia Schilling (SPD), Senator for Economy and Ports, had predicted the spaceport in a meeting of the citizenship that it would “enable just-in-time connections from Europe into space and thus contribute to Europe‘s strategic sovereignty in space travel” .
The planned rocket launches were also the topic of a current hour in the Lower Saxony state parliament. There, as in Bremen, the FDP was particularly strong in favor of the project, and the coalition partners SPD and CDU were also open to it. There were prophecies of doom on the part of the opposition Greens: It is inconceivable that rocket crashes and fuel clouds can be reconciled with climate and environmental protection. Lower Saxony’s state government should clearly reject the Bremen plans.
Decisive in terms of the spaceport, especially with a view to the 30 million euros “entry fee”, is what the Federal Minister of Economics said. Discussions with Peter Altmaier (CDU) have already taken place on the matter, can be heard. The answers from his house to inquiries made by members of the Bundestag seem rather cautious. The government told the Greens that numerous questions were still unanswered. In particular, with a view to take-offs in the North Sea, the approval capability as well as possible conflicts, for example with nature conservation, should be comprehensively examined.
The FDP wrote the Altmaier Ministry from Berlin: “According to the current state of knowledge of the Federal Government, German companies or industry and research institutions and organizations are not fundamentally dependent on a launch site for microlauncher in Germany.” Impressed by the spaceport in the sea, even enthusiastic about the idea that doesn’t sound like that.