Europe’s first continental spaceport opens in major boost for German startup

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Europe’s first operational continental spaceport has officially opened in a major boost for Germany’s Isar Aerospace — which is hastily preparing for its maiden flight from the site next year.

The Andøya Spaceport, located on the remote island of Andøya in Norway’s northwest, was officially opened by Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon this week. Once fully constructed, the spaceport will host several launch pads. Isar Aerospace has exclusive access to the first launch site, where it will test its two-stage rocket Spectrum.

Norway's crown prince inaugurates the Andøya Spaceport
Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon was met by excited locals during the inauguration of the Andøya Spaceport this week. Credit: Andøya Spaceport

If the tests prove successful, the company aims to carry out commercial operations at the spaceport in order to meet the growing demand for transporting small- and medium-sized satellites into space. Isar looks to launch up to 15 missions per year from Andoya, at a cost of €10-12mn per flight.

“Over the last five years, we have built a rocket that will help to solve the most crucial bottleneck in the European space industry – sovereign and competitive access to space,” said Daniel Metzler, CEO and co-founder of Isar Aerospace. 

an image of a rocket separating in space
A 3D render showing the Spectrum rocket’s stage separation following its launch into orbit. Credit: Isar Aerospace

Currently, Europe lacks independent access to space satellites, following the decommissioning of Ariane 5 earlier this year, and delays to the launch of its successor Ariane 6. Faced with no local alternatives, the European Space Agency (ESA) inked a deal with Elon Musk’s SpaceX last month for the delivery of four navigation and communications satellites into orbit next year. 

While the ESA doesn’t intend to rely on SpaceX beyond this launch, it may have no other option unless Europe’s emerging new space startups reach commercial viability soon. At present, two German startups, Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory Augsburg, show the most promise. 

Founded in 2018 as a spin-off from Technical University Munich, Isar Aerospace has secured €310mn to date, making it Europe’s most well-funded private space company. Rocket Factory Augsburg, while having raised only a tenth of that of its competitor, has secured exclusive access to the only other potential launch site in Europe — SaxaVord Spaceport in Scotland’s Shetland Islands. Both startups planned to launch this year but have faced several delays. Both have now set their sights on 2024.

Currently under construction, SaxaVord aims to host launches from next year, but, unlike Andøya, has yet to secure its spaceport license. As Europe’s new space race heats up, the question remains: who will reach orbit first, Isar Aerospace from Andøya Spaceport or Rocket Factory Augsburg from SaxaVord Spaceport?