European Micro-Launch Market: a Conversation with European Top Industry Experts

This September, Space Tech Expo Europe hosted the webinar Assessing Future Industry Prospects of the European Micro-Launch Market.

The session included industry leaders from ESA (Thilo Kranz, Thilo Kranz, Commercial Space Transportation Manager), Rocket Factory Augsberg (Jörn Spurmann, COO), Isar Aerospace (Stella Guillen, COO), Arianespace (Emmanuel Franc, Senior Vice President, Sales & Business Development) and PLD Space (Raúl Torres, CEO).

Audience members had the chance to gain crucial insights into the current developments within Europe’s micro-launch market, as well as understand the opportunities it will provide operators and service users in future.

Following the webinar, the speakers answered some of the questions submitted by the audience during the session, sharing some additional thoughts on this key industry topic.

How much national institutional funding are European launcher developers receiving? Could it be considered that it gives bias to the competition?

Thilo Kranz: European commercial launch service developments are presently in their pre-commercialisation phase. During this critical phase, a certain level of access to institutional funding and financing opportunities, as well as other public support is considered a key enabler for the successful deployment of new launch services. It also reinforces the commercial space sector’s attractiveness to private investors.

Where do you think the demand in Europe will come from? The US launchers have the Department of Defence and NASA, which are very active as opposed to their European counterparts.

Stella Guillen: Space is and will be a critical infrastructure for many industries and therefore for prosperity in Germany and across Europe. The global space launch services market is expected to increase to over 30 billion euros by 2027 – almost 10 billion of which stems from the deployment of small and medium-sized satellites. Space will become a key technological platform for many industries worldwide – from the automotive to the telecoms sector – bringing advances and new capabilities of IoT, data encryption and storage, as well as smart farming applications and surveillance for tackling climate change. Consequently, companies, research institutes, as well as state organizations have a growing demand for flexible and cost-efficient space access. We believe that the European industry but also institutions have just started to recognize the potential of space and satellite-based technology and therefore we expect a significant growth in the next decade for space access.

Thilo Kranz: In Europe, like in the US, there is a mix of commercial and institutional demand. Both demand segments are presently on the rise in Europe, which is considered a promising trend. 

Do you consider the market to be big enough for all companies to survive and be profitable?

Jörn Spurmann: The sellers’ market is transforming into a buyers’ market currently. As discussed on the panel, there will soon be more supply than demand. New emerging start-ups are inducing a heavy price competition for launch service. Only a few launch service providers will be able to establish themselves on the market, and what will be decisive here is a high launch cadence at competitive low prices like the ones offered by RFA. 

What is the panellists’ opinion on the vertical integration of launch, satellite building and operations into a single company (eg SpaceX)? Good or bad for market competition?

Thilo Kranz: Vertical integration is one way for a company to organise the value chain, and to control it. Between vertically integrated companies developing similar products or services, a certain level of duplication would be expected, which is essentially a competition on innovative solutions. This is good.

Can you comment on vertical vs horizontal integration in the supply chain for small launcher manufacturing?

Stella Guillen: We are convinced that it is totally beneficial to have the entire value chain in-house, from design software and design know-how to production and test facilities – like we do at Isar Aerospace. This not only gives us the necessary independence and flexibility for our customers, but also an incomparable speed in development and implementation as well as comradeship within teams.  In summary, having value chain in-house allows us to have control over costs, quality and schedule, key to providing a reliable, economical, on-time solution to the small and medium satellite market.

Thilo Kranz: Vertical or horizontal integration is one way for a company to organise the value chain, and to control it. Outsourcing (or not) of critical subsystem development and manufacturing is often a strategic decision supported by a make-or-buy analysis.

How easy is it to get access to components for rocket building? Are there many suppliers, or do European launch providers generally have to produce their own in-house?

Jörn Spurmann: This is the exact paradigm shift introduced by NewSpace companies. To not expensively develop components for the space environment any more, but instead look at available componentry off the shelf in other industries which are fit for purpose and then qualify it in-house. For example, our stainless steel tanks are from a brewery supplier. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but rather make use of existing processes, materials and products.

What is the frequency that you (launch providers) are aiming to launch the respective vehicles? How many launches per year?

Jörn Spurmann: After the first test flights we ramp-up over a few years to launch on a weekly basis. Comparable to a scheduled bus: ‘Every Monday at 10:30am you can book your ticket to 550km sun synchronous orbit on a rideshare flight’.