The microlauncher competition being organised by the German Space Agency at DLR was launched on 15 May 2020. The competition is sponsoring German start-ups that want to develop and commercially operate microlaunchers with a total of 25 million euros in funding. A maximum of five companies could take part, of which two winners were selected by a jury of experts during the two-year period. Anna Christmann, a member of the German Federal Parliament and Government Coordinator for Aerospace Policy, took over the chairmanship of the jury from Thomas Jarzombek in 2022. The winners will receive funding for the final qualification phase of their launcher systems, including the implementation of two demonstration flights each, scheduled to take place between 2022 and 2024. The aim of the competition is to promote the development of commercial and cost-effective access to space as well as long-term sustainable business models in the microlauncher sector.
Microlauncher competition - 25 million euros in funding for new launcher systems
The microlauncher competition was open to German start-up companies offering transport services from Earth to orbit based on a launch system that they had developed themselves. Another prerequisite for participation was the willingness to allow payloads selected by the German Space Agency at DLR, each with a maximum total mass of 150 kilograms, to fly on the funded qualification flights free of charge. In addition, the general conditions of the European Space Agency (ESA) C-STS programme were applicable. The deadline for applications was 20 June 2020.
The microlauncher competition was divided into three phases. In the preliminary round (phase one in 2020), three participating start-ups (HyImpulse Technologies GmbH, Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH and Rocket Factory Augsburg AG) were selected, and each received 500,000 euros in funding. In the first main round (phase two in 2021), Isar Aerospace Technologies GmbH came out on top and received funding of 11 million euros. In phase three of the competition in 2022, Rocket Factory Augsburg AG achieved the highest score and was thus also able to secure funding in the same amount.
Decisive for the selection of the teams in all three competition phases were technical, economic and operational evaluation criteria. The selected companies received a Letter of Support from the German Space Agency at DLR, which was required for the bids to ESA. The funding was allocated within the framework of ESA’s C-STS programme and provided through financing from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz; BMWK), as agreed at ESA’s Space19+ Ministerial Council in Seville in November 2019.
Payload competition - a zero-cost fly-along opportunity for small satellites
The microlauncher competition is combined with the payload competition. Zero-cost flight opportunities are being offered on a total of four demonstration flights. The total mass of the payloads may be up to 150 kilograms for each flight; the number of payloads per flight has not been fixed in advance. The selection will be made by the German Space Agency at DLR in consultation with the launch service providers and ESA.
The payload competition is being conducted in two rounds. The first round started in August 2021 with the announcement of the first of a total of four planned flights. Applications were open to institutions from Europe that wanted to launch one or more small satellites for scientific or commercial missions or for technology testing in space. In December 2021, five winners were selected, three of them from Germany and one each from Norway and Slovenia. The launch of seven small satellites in total is planned for the second quarter of 2023.
The second round of the payload competition was given the green light on 20 June 2022 and includes the remaining three demonstration flights, with launches planned in 2023 and 2024. In this phase, commercial small satellites will be able to fly alongside institutional payloads, with the offer being extended to small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as start-ups. The winners for the second and third flights are to be announced in December 2022 and for the fourth flight in May 2023.
The tender documents for the second round of the payload competition are available from the download section on this page.