December 13, 2021 | Small satellites from five European research institutions secure a place on the commercial Spectrum launch vehicle

Microlauncher competition: first payload winners chosen

  • Following its microlauncher competition, the German Space Agency at DLR announced a contest for the payloads on board the microlaunchers.
  • Five research institutions from Germany, Norway and Slovenia entered seven small satellites that won places on the maiden flight of the Spectrum launch vehicle by Munich-based Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH, which won the main round of the microlauncher competition in April 2021.
  • The initiative is aimed at reinforcing the value chain for small satellites, small launch vehicles and services for space applications.
  • Areas of focus: Spaceflight, commercialisation, start-up funding

The satellite market is thriving and satellites themselves are becoming ever smaller and lighter. Around 90 percent of the satellites that will be launched into space over the next decade weigh less than 500 kilograms, which puts them in the 'small satellite' category. They span a wide range of applications, from telecommunication services and monitoring of Earth’s land, air and water masses all the way through to the rapid and cost-effective testing of new technologies in space. Microlaunchers are now able to carry these small satellites to their target orbit.

Against this general backdrop, the German Space Agency at DLR launched its microlauncher competition in 2020, with the specific aim of promoting access to space via commercially developed small launch vehicles. The German Space Agency at DLR is providing a total of 25 million euros in funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy to develop innovative microlaunchers, while at the same time securing payload capacity on the first two flights for the winners from both main rounds. It will be implemented as part of the German contribution towards the ESA's new commercial space transport service programme (C-STS). Germany signed on to the C-STS programme as a leading player in the effort to initiate commercialisation within the launcher sector in Europe.

Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH – a Munich-based start-up – won the first main round of the microlauncher competition with 'Spectrum', its small launch vehicle, in April 2021. Spectrum is set to make its maiden flight in late 2022.

In autumn 2021, the German Space Agency at DLR then went on to launch another contest to find suitable payloads. Five European research institutions won a free flight on Spectrum for their seven small satellites. They will use the launch to conduct scientific investigations and test new technologies in space.

Overview of the winners from the first Payload competition:

The DLR Responsive Space Cluster Compentence Center (RSC³), based at the AeroSpace Park on DLR's Trauen site in Lower Saxony, with its MSAE-OTTERS mission, where the primary aim is to develop and launch a small satellite in the space of just nine months. This requires standard development and preparation processes to be accelerated considerably, which should benefit satellite development in future.

A technology demonstration is being carried out as part of the CyBEEsat mission (Cybersecurity Berlin Experimental and Educational Satellite) from the Chair of Space Technology at the Berlin Institute of Technology (Technische Universität Berlin). The CubeSat has a miniaturised transceiver for newly defined frequency bands that can be used for short-term missions, as well as novel, radiation-tolerant solar cells from the University of Potsdam.

ZfT – Zentrum für Telematik e.V. from Würzburg with a scientific study of volcanic ash clouds and three small satellites that fly in formation to measure the spatial extent of such phenomena.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim with the FRAMSat-1 mission, a technology demonstration for a small satellite developed by a student, equipped with a new star sensor from a Norwegian SME.

The University of Maribor (Slovenia) with its TRISAT-S mission, a technology demonstrator for a miniaturised transceiver designed to enable encrypted communications with multiple ground stations all over the globe.

Walther Pelzer, DLR Executive Board Member and Head of the German Space Agency at DLR, congratulates all of the winners and wishes them and Isar Aerospace a successful launch with Spectrum and a fruitful mission: "I am delighted that our initiative has prompted an array of space activities and supported the development of transport capacity in space, the development of small satellites for scientific missions and the testing of new technologies." Close collaboration between universities, research institutions, small businesses and start-ups is in line with the German government's space strategy. "We see these contests as a catalyst for the commercialisation of space activities in Germany and Europe as a whole."

Isar Aerospace GmbH will conclude cooperation agreements with the winners of the first Payload Contest over the coming days. "We are delighted to announce the selection of payloads for Spectrum's maiden flight and would like to thank the German Space Agency at DLR and the various institutions for believing in us. It is wonderful to be a part of this forward-looking programme and do our bit to foster collaboration between the public and private sector in European space travel. This collaboration will also help to promote the development of research and technology for space and cultivate the private space ecosystem in Europe," says Isar CEO Daniel Metzler.

There are currently 12 applications in for Spectrum's second planned demonstration flight. The winning entries will be chosen next year. "We will run another payload competition then, as well," says Markus Wagener, Manager of the Small Satellites Programme for the German Space Agency at DLR. “The second round of winners of the microlauncher competition will be chosen in April 2022. We want to offer free rides on the launcher’s first and second flights."

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Elisabeth Mittelbach

Team leader Communications & Media Relations
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
German Space Agency at DLR
Königswinterer Straße 522-524, 53227 Bonn
Tel: +49 228 447-385

Tina Schmitt

Press contact Isar Aerospace
Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH