German Space Firm Enters Rocket Business Shaken Up by Elon Musk
German satellite maker OHB SE is developing a space rocket for small payloads, entering the field for launchers that’s increasingly moving into the sphere of private companies like Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
Maiden flight of the planned rocket is set for late 2021, OHB Chief Executive Officer Marco Fuchs said in an interview. The company has a team of about 35 employees in Augsburg, southern Germany, working on a so-called mini launcher designed to bring small payloads into orbit and with a low-cost approach, the CEO said. Key components of the rocket have already been developed and tested.
“To build our own rocket is a logical step for OHB,” Fuchs said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Bremen, Germany. “We will become our own client and launch our own satellites.”
OHB, with a stock market listing but still under family control, made its name as a manufacturer of satellites, including modules for the European Galileo navigation system, as well as models for telecommunications and earth observation, a market that Fuchs said is showing the most promising signs of growth. Entering rocket manufacturing would help OHB become more independent from the huge launchers that currently dominate the industry, giving it more flexibility and greater cost control.
“There is a real startup scene in that field, with about 100 initiatives for new rockets worldwide,” the CEO said. “In the past, people said only the NASA can do this. But rocket science has lost its mystique.”
So far, OHB’s satellites are being launched by external service providers such as Arianespace and Musk’s SpaceX. SpaceX set a company record in 2018 with 21 take-offs for customers, and it specializes in re-usable rockets that are retrieved after returning to Earth.
OHB would not comment on possible lift-off sites for its own rocket. While Arianespace uses the Kourou space port in French Guiana, there are exploratory sites on the Portuguese Azores islands, as well as in Scotland, Sweden, and Norway.
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