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Commercial Space in Europe: A Balancing Act between Physics, Politics and Profession

Etudes de l'Ifri, June 2021

Satellite constellations have become core elements of the digital transition. Over the next decade, several thousand satellites will have to be launched, to build these constellations.  For positioning satellites, preferably in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), reliable and affordable launch services are essential.


At the end of 2020, the European Space Agency (ESA) awarded three German space start-ups competing contracts in order to support its small-launch system. One may identify a change in Germany’s space policy, since the ESA Ministerial Council (MC) in Seville in late 2019. Besides supporting programs in its traditional fields of interest, Germany showed a special interest in supporting the Commercial Space Transportation Service acceleration program for the above-mentioned German space start-ups.

This report is focused on a technical analysis of the market demands and the special commercial market conditions in LEO. It describes the competitive situation and, especially, the limiting conditions, which may hinder private investors from continuing to support a sound technical solution. These are: the size of the accessible market share, the natural risks of operating complex systems in a hostile environment, and the regulatory hurdles in acquiring formal approval by the authorities. A major factor for the expected business success is and will be the governmental support that the consortia can acquire.

KP Ludwig is a member of DGLR, DGAP and VDI, and a board member of Nathan-Zuntz-F√∂rderkreis, a German non-profit association for fostering developments in space medicine. Before that he worked among others at the BMFT (Germany’s National Ministry of Research and Technology), Dornier Satellite System, EADS, Astrium and co-founded the consultancy Craftwerk-Consult.


Commercial Space in Europe: A Balancing Act between Physics, Politics and Profession


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