European spaceport boom could benefit industry

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BREMEN, Germany — At least a half a dozen spaceports are under consideration across Europe, something European industrial giants ArianeGroup and OHB say bodes well for the future of launch.

Sweden, Germany, Italy, Scotland, Portugal and Norway are discussing establishing spaceports, OHB CEO Marco Fuchs said Nov. 19 at Space Tech Expo Europe here.

“Everybody talks about spaceports,” he said. “I guess it is a sign of excitement.”

Europe’s orbital rockets launch from the Guiana Space Center in France’s South American territory, French Guiana. Fuchs said small launch vehicles that companies like OHB are designing don’t need as much launchpad infrastructure, and can therefore use a larger number of potential spaceports.

André-Hubert Roussel, ArianeGroup CEO, the manufacturer of Europe’s heavy lift Ariane 5 and upcoming Ariane 6 rockets, said it is good to consider new spaceports, but cautioned that they are expensive investments.

“I think as Europe, we should really check what we can afford,” he said. “If there are benefits to having additional spaceports, we for sure we should consider them, but not neglecting the already existing base that we have in French Guiana.”

The French space agency CNES awarded a 200 million euro ($221.5 million at current exchange rates) to a construction consortium in 2016 to upgrade the Guiana Space Center for Ariane 6, which is slated to launch for the first time in the second half of 2020. The European Space Agency also funds the Guiana Space Center.

The Guiana Space Center, being closer to the equator than any potential spaceport in continental Europe, has an advantage, Roussel added, since rockets launched from there require less fuel to reach space.

Fuchs said additional spaceports would be good, mainly if they are privately financed.

“What is obvious is that competition is good,” he said. “If there are more spaceports, it’s better than if there are less spaceports.”

OHB is designing a small launch vehicle that would lift 200 kilograms to low Earth orbit. Fuchs said in an interview that the company hopes to do a first launch in 2021.