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European launchers are expected to use commercial spaceports in the future

Actors in the growing European commercial launch industry are focusing on the establishment of European commercial spaceports rather than transporting rockets further afield. Representatives from the launch industry and agencies discussed the major considerations in spaceport selection, and also the drivers, customer needs, and problems in getting safely to orbit, during a discussion panel at Space Tech Expo Europe held in Bremen, Germany, on November 17. Spaceports are also required, given the recent increase in satellite constellation ambitions and the profusion of rocket technologies.

“We talk of spaceports presently as a separate entity, but in the prior, it was an associate of an agency or major corporation, with the interaction between the launcher as well as the spaceport always being extremely intimate,” said UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult moderator Mike Curtis-Rouse. “Now we see…a spaceport is a commercial venture.”   According to Ian Annett, who serves as the Deputy CEO in charge of the program delivery at the United Kingdom Space Agency, the capacity to have the national spaceport is dependent on demands, with most nations lacking the kind of throughput required to support such facilities. The solution, he added, must be a commercial spaceport.

Several factors were found in determining where and which spaceports will win out, with one, in particular, is emphasized several times. “To keep overall deployment costs as low as possible, launch pricing is a significant concern for small launch operators.” Other significant decision criteria include launch window accessibility, possible orbit inclinations, and infrastructure,” says Ral Verd, CBDO and co-founder of Spanish launch firm PLD Space. Similar drivers, according to Derek Harris, who works as the business operations manager of UK launch company Skyrora, include the customer’s needs in terms of the desired orbit, cost, and usefulness.

“Critical spaceport selection criteria include cost, reliability, cost, cost, convenience, and geography,” according to Annett. When asked why new spaceports are needed in Europe rather than elsewhere, Annett said that location plays a role, because, with sensitive equipment, transportation is an issue, not only in terms of the intellectual property, red tape, and time but also in terms of potential damage. Upstream services and establishing a distribution network are also important concerns.

The space sector is changing, according to Harris, and there is also a need to be sustainable. “To launch, you don’t have to go all around the world,” Harris explains. Skyrora’s initial launch will take place from Saxa Vord in Shetland Islands. “Why would you want to ship your sensitive gear to the US or even Kazakhstan for launch when there are more satellites made in Scotland compared to California?” Annett continues.

Arne Gausepohl, managing director of German Offshore Spaceport Alliance, that is working to establish maritime launch functionalities with a logistics base situated in Bremerhaven, consented with these points, noting that new launch infrastructure gives the European value chain more sovereignty and independence.

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Franek Sosiczek

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