Microlaunchers to Grow Europe’s Economy

Five feasibility studies on launch services using microlaunchers in Europe, contracted within ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme in 2018, proposed solutions for economically viable and commercially self-sustaining microlaunch services. (Credit: ESA)

PARIS (ESA PR) — A flourishing small satellites market is driving demand for new ways to access space. Recent industry feasibility studies backed by ESA for new microlauncher services, are creating new business opportunities.

ESA intends to strengthen European industry by fostering a globally competitive European space sector with increased industry participation in launcher development.

As part of this, ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme (FLPP) funded five proposals from industry for an economically viable, commercially self-sustaining microlauncher, without public funding in exploitation.

A microlauncher can place a small satellite of up to 350 kg – typically small commercial or experimental satellites into low orbits, starting from the ground or from an aerial platform.

ESA’s support allowed these companies to bring their ideas to a basic level of maturity, creating value in the market and networking possibilities with other businesses.

The five companies presented their results at a workshop and networking opportunity organised by ESA in Paris, France. It was attended by more than 150 participants, and more than 100 business-to-business meetings took place.

The results of the studies have been used by ESA to select underlying critical technologies to be further matured within ESA’s existing FLPP technology portfolio, bringing also the prospect of validating and embarking technologies on large-scale demonstrators. With more expected, the first batch of technologies relate to low-cost avionics, composite tanks, the separation system, turbopumps and the safety framework for microlaunchers.

PLD Space presented a service based on its Miura launcher. Deimos and Orbex presented AZμL, a service from the Azores islands using the Orbex Prime vehicle. Avio presented a service derived from their Vega workhorse and the upcoming Vega-C. MT Aerospace presented the results of a trade of analysis including different concepts and launch locations. ArianeGroup presented Q@TS – a “Quick @ccess To Space” ecosystem including a microlauncher concept based on Nammo’s hybrid propulsion technology.

At Space19+ in November, ESA will propose a programme to nurture commercially viable ideas from European industry to open up new space transportation markets. This programme would support proposals for privately-led privately-funded space transportation services, with an initial focus on launch services based on microlaunchers.

As microlauncher solutions gain ground, development initiatives for national spaceports are also emerging.

“ESA’s early understanding and involvement in new space transportation services in Europe will help us spur the environment that supports long-term success, growth and competitiveness,” commented Daniel Neuenschwander, ESA’s Director of Space Transportation.

Space has become an integrated part of our daily lives. From smartphones to agricultural monitoring, the socio-economic benefits of space activities are so diverse that they are not always so obvious to the general public. ESA focuses this week on what space is doing for the economy, in particular, highlighting the flourishing applications domain and business opportunities.

  • Tony_Morales

    As far as I know, only PLD Space and Orbex are working toward reusability, as per the info on their own websites.

  • duheagle

    The Avio thing is definitely not reusable. The MT Aerospace and ArianeGroup things look like strictly paper rockets at this point.

    Europe badly needs at least one rational, market-based launcher company. I’ll root for PLD and Orbex and hope one or the other – or maybe both – can take off, grow and, in the fullness of time, eat ArianeGroup’s lunch.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It’ll be interesting to see how Exos does vs these guys. Exos is still taking the self started organic approach of the old Space Access crowd. Clustered and chopped sarges could make an orbital capable LV. But it would really help if they changed their fuel chemistry to Kero/LOX or diesel or BioDiesel/LOX if they’re using ablative cooling. There was a fascinating set of IRAD done and presented at Space Access ’11 or so that showed very promising power density numbers for LOX BioDiesel. Back to the subject it will be interesting to see how Exos and shops like them fare vs these European efforts that will be state sponsored and look and act more like RocketLab.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Unfortunately the political, tax and regulatory climate in the EU will make it very difficult for that to happen.

  • duheagle

    Yes, the odds aren’t good at all. But they aren’t zero either.

    In this country it is looking increasingly likely that SpaceX, Blue Origin and the best few of the smallsat newbies will, in combination, drive the legacy primes out of the launcher business entirely in as little as five years. New smallsat makers, in parallel, will kill most of the rest of the legacy primes’ space business. The effect will be to drive them out of space and back into the atmosphere, so to speak, leaving just their aircraft and missile businesses.

    It would be much less likely for the same thing to happen in Europe – there is no extant player there with the stature of SpaceX, or even Blue Origin – but it’s not absolutely out of the question. The successful insurgents will absolutely, positively not be French, but could come from most anywhere else in Europe including some of the former Warsaw Pact countries.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The real barrier is so few in Europe don’t buy into the libertarian viewpoint. Of those who do, they’re more along the lines of a typical politico, where they get paid to dream up political theory and put nothing into practice of their own individual initiative.. Here in the US you have true believers who actually put their ideas into practice, and people like me who want to see a balance of forces and thus back any self motivated group of individuals who are willing to put their ideas into action, even though I think most efforts will come to naught beyond personal enrichment of the individuals who gave it a shot.

  • Cameron

    They had better be prepared to bring something novel and high value to the table, given that they are doing studies on a market / launchers that are already entering service elsewhere in the world (ie Electron).

  • duheagle

    It isn’t a shortage of libertarians that holds Europe back so much as a shortage of entrepreneurs. Despite the word being of French origin, French culture is probably the least fertile ground in Europe for the efforts of the would-be self-made and the rest of the continent is only marginally better. The problem has some political aspects – Europe is far more leftist politically than the U.S. – but is basically cultural. Karl Marx, as the saying goes, wasn’t even a gleam in his old man’s eye when Napoleon was sneering at the British as “a nation of shopkeepers.” Money, in Europe, simply isn’t respectable until those in current possession of it are sufficiently far-removed, temporally, from the uncouth parvenus who earned it in the first place. Europe admires the heirs of the rich, but sneers at the self-made.

  • joe tusgadaro

    PLD has the first Miura 5 prototype being constructed now.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    On a whole, Europe is not being held back. If anything America’s libertarian business ethic is destroying our industrial sector, while Europe and Asia are expanding theirs via state sponsorship and control. America’s libertarians are only shining in a few high dollar or high interest sectors. Elon Musk is really the only muscular libertarian who invests in his own tooling and keeps himself vertically integrated. But then again, he’s state funded as well and has lost interest in every one of his enterprises that does not attract state dollars. But the rest of America’s libertarians are a bunch of wimps who sell their production shops overseas and are addicted to socialist dollars and labor from China. So I’m not sure Europe has a problem per se except that they can’t move as fast as Musk can.

  • ThomasLMatula

    ROFLOL. Thanks I needed a good laugh. Some actual information.


    Barriers to Entrepreneurship Stymie EU Economies
    Nearly all Italians, Greeks say government makes it hard to start business
    by Julie Ray
    March 21, 2014

    BTW the unemployment rate in Europe is 7.9 percent. In the United States it is only 3.8 percent. But yes, let’s copy the centralize industrial planning model of Europe…

    The reason U.S. firms build factories in China is not just the cheap labor, but the high Chinese tariff barriers. That is why Elon Musk is building a factory for Telsa in China, because the 25% import tariff on automobiles makes exporting to China uneconomical.

  • Robert Sutton

    As just recently read in go get Stuff(ed) the imperious NZ govt in 2005 decided not to invest in Rocketlab and so missed out due to rules preventing investing in startups by a Govt body set up to promote investment in startups so I wonder if something similar will occur in this case

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Did I say entrepreneurship? I said manufacturing. Why do you conflate the two? Yet again, you’ve tried to put my argument into another light leading to a case I did not make? Why do you do this? You’ve done it several times in the past 24 hours? What’s going on?

    Now as to the root of your case, why is it that if the United States is such a entrepreneurial paradise and Europe is suck a purgatory for capitalists, how is it that their industrial sector is intact, and ours is not? It probably means that if you want to maintain your industrial base intact, you can’t let your business sector run free.

  • redneck

    A fast search of US industrial productivity shows that productivity did drop during the recession, but has caught up and passed the 2007 peak. There are a large number of thing that do damage the US industrial sector. Very high on the list is regulatory capture by larger corporations. A Ford Motor Company benefits by regulations that prevent or very seriously discourage new entrants. A Walmart can spend years and hundreds of thousands getting a store zoned and permitted, while a smaller company often can’t even try.

    Corporatism can be a form of socialism, and can have equally horrible effects on the consumers. Sending jobs overseas is very often a result of the difficulty of starting a business or factory here, and much of that difficulty is caused by the major corporations that want as little competition as possible. The punch line from the old genie joke about your worst enemy getting twice as much of anything you wish for: “beat me half to death”. A variation is “a woman that screws me half to death” Regulations often work that way.with the major players able to survive that which destroys start ups.

    So socialism is part of our problem as well.

  • joe tusgadaro

    Which part of Europe are we referring to, Italy is a lot different to my country (Ireland) is ease of business, start ups etc, Denmark is different to Greece etc,
    Then you have countries that have worked hard since the big recession to improve like Spain….Europe’s a sizable diverse place.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You’re conflating industrial productivity with manufacturing. The overbearing fact of the past 30 years has been the transferring of manufacturing lines from the US to China. Tools included. Important tools like large hydraulic presses. Europe breaks all your points about difficulty in starting new enterprises, competition, regulation, and taxes, and socialism (which I take to mean high wages, and benefits). Europe does all those things at levels that drive people like Prof Matula crazy, but their industrial sector experienced no transfer out of EU borders, nor did they go into steep decline like they did in the US. Think about differences between what your theory says about how an economy works vs what’s been done in the laboratory. Europe has broken all the patterns you predict are written in the fabric of the universe. Economies are rigged, all of them. It’s a matter of which control laws you want running the machine vs what works best, and what you define as ‘best’. It’s terribly subjective.

  • redneck

    I went back and looked at manufacturing productivity and the graphs are quite similar. Manufacturing is up. I think we can agree that it could be up even more though. China improving doesn’t necessarily mean that we have lost ground, just that we may not have gained the ground we should have.

    Socialism is about who controls, not about high wages and benefits. Improved wages and benefits come from improved productivity. Socialism often as the reverse effect.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Again we’re comparing apples and oranges. Try this. How many manufacturers of maritime diesel engines are American vs 30 years ago? How many commercial shipping yards are there in the US? Does the US make large electrical transformers? Tool steel? How many machine tool manufacturers are American today vs 30 years ago? What’s the state of heavy sheet metal stamping in this country? What’s our share of the automobile industry? What’s the share of electronic components manufacture in the United States vs 30 years ago? How about our share of rare earth mining and refining? The problem with metering off productivity is it only measures profit on what you make now, it in no way meters what you no longer make.