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The importance of suborbital flight in Europe

Europe in Space
Issue 14. Subscribers: 331.
In case you missed it, last week I published an exclusive look into the progress of ArianeGroup’s Maiaspace launch startup from the company’s CEO Yohann Leroy. The company will consist of 25 employees by September and plans to raise private funding in the first quarter of 2023.
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The importance of suborbital flight in Europe
Over the last few months, I have tried to track down suborbital rocket builders throughout Europe. Some of these companies are developing suborbital vehicles on the road to orbital launch. However, some of the most interesting are smaller companies that are 100% focused on suborbital launch. 
Despite these companies developing compelling vehicles from countries you would not generally regard as European space powers, they receive very little limelight. The lack of coverage is so severe that even finding them on Google with anything but the exact name of a company is a challenge. For the most part, I have had to rely on people with direct knowledge of these companies to bring them to my attention. And this is a shame.
In Poland, there are several suborbital launch companies. Spaceforest is developing its Perun vehicle, which is capable of carrying 50 kg payloads to an altitude of 150 km, allowing for around 300 s of microgravity. Łukasiewicz Research Network is developing its ILR-33 Amber 2K, which is a 4.6-metre vehicle that is equipped with a pair of solid rocket boosters. It is capable of carrying 10 kg payloads to an altitude of 100 km, allowing for around 150 s of microgravity.
In the Netherlands, T-Minus is developing Barracuda, a 4.5-metre vehicle capable of carrying 15 kg payloads to an altitude of 200 km. The vehicle is launched from a fully mobile launch system that requires minimal permanent infrastructure. T-Minus is already operating a smaller vehicle called Dart that is capable of carrying 0.5 kg payloads to an altitude of between 50 and 120 km.
And I can’t forget about Copenhagen Suborbitals. This Danish crowd-funded volunteer-driven outfit is currently the only organisation in Europe pursuing a human-rated launch vehicle. The 13-metre Spica rocket will be powered by a 100 kN main engine and is designed to be capable of launching a single astronaut on a suborbital trip to space.
Why do I bring up these four small suborbital launch projects? Well, each time I talk about one of these vehicles, I get a number of comments from people in those countries excited to hear about their development. And more often than not, they’re hearing about it for the first time despite all four companies having already launched missions in the past, something you can’t yet say for any European orbital launch startup.
Regardless of how small these projects are, they become exciting rallying points that promote science and technology development in their host countries. And unlike orbital launch programs that require several hundred million euros and up to a decade of development, suborbital programs can be launched by student groups and achieve results in a handful of years. And the benefit of these programs will be felt for decades, with larger and more ambitious projects likely to be launched in their wake.
This can’t happen if the achievements of companies and organisations like Spaceforest, Łukasiewicz Research Network, T-Minus, and Copenhagen Suborbitals remain in the dark. We need a concerted effort from the European Space Agency, academia, and journalists to ensure that these suborbital programs and funded, studied, and celebrated both in their host countries and throughout Europe.
I really love reporting on how close we are to orbital launch capabilities in Europe. It’s what first drew me to the industry and what continues to drive me. However, I feel like it’s important that this excitement is shared at the smaller scale to an equal degree to ensure far greater participation in the future of European space. This is a journey that I have already started and one that I hope many others will follow.
On that note, if you know of any suborbital launch company operating in Europe that I have not touched on, please reply to this email with your suggestion. I hope to compile an equally exhaustive look at the suborbital launch market as I have with the orbital launch market in Europe.
To be or not to be sustainable - The UK government has announced plans to introduce a “Space Sustainability Standard” for industry. The standard is to be introduced with the aim of incentivizing companies to take steps to mitigate their impact on Earth’s orbit. The government and the country’s spaceflight regulator will work with industry, insurers, and academia to develop and test the standard.
Isar scores another launch contract - Isar Aerospace has signed a launch contract with D-Orbit to carry one of the Italian space logistics company’s ION orbital transfer tugs. The mission is expected to be launched no earlier than 2023 from Norway’s Andøya Space facility. This is the fifth firm launch contract to be secured by Isar after Airbus Defence and Space, OroraTech, EnduroSat, and Astrocast.
Ariane 5 has entered the chat - Arianespace launched its first Ariane 5 mission of 2022. The vehicle was launched from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana on June 22 and carried the MEASAT-3d and GSAT-24 communications satellites to orbit. The next launch of the European calendar is the maiden flight of Vega-C.
Spain ready for space lorries - A consortium led by Spanish propulsion startup Arkadia Space has secured €100k in funding from the European Commission’s Galactica project to develop 3D-printed ceramic combustion chambers. According to Arkadia, the combustion chambers are specifically designed for the in-orbit servicing market. The Galactica project was launched in early 2021 and aims to support the creation of new industrial value chains around the textile and aerospace sectors based on advanced manufacturing.
Romania set to pay its ESA tab - Romania has created a draft Government Decision regarding the full payment of the country’s outstanding financial contribution to ESAs optional programmes. The current unsettled contribution is €102,263,517.89. Once paid, Romania’s voting rights in the ESA Council will be restored. “Romania is a key player in the European space project and is keen and ready to continue to contribute to the most important ESA projects through all its bright minds,“ said Sebastian-Ioan Burduja, the Minister of Research, Innovation, and Digitisation.
A European agreement - The European Investment Fund and CNES signed a partnership agreement at the Guiana Space Center following the launch of the Arianespace VA257 mission. The agreement will support small and medium enterprises in the space sector.
Europe has a banger investment year - According to a recently published European Space Policy Institute report indicates that 2021 was a record investment year for European Space startups with €611 million raised. According to the report, the top 5 investment deals were €80.6 million raised by UK-based quantum encryption company Arquit following its merger with SPAC company Centricus Acquisition Corp, UK-based startup Isotropic Systems’ €64.8 million series B, German launch startup Isar Aersopace’s €57 million capital funding round, Swiss IoT satellite operator Astrocast’s €41.2 million in pre-IPO placement revenue, and Spanish EO startup Setlantis’ €30.5 million Series B.
The Bikini shots are ready for your viewing - The Exploration Company revealed the demonstration capsule that will fly aboard the maiden Ariane 6 flight. According to the company, the structure of the "Bikini demonstrator” has been finalized, and the company has received and inspected 80% of the capsule electronic equipment. Following the announcement that Ariane 6 will not launch in 2022, the company has been given somewhat of a rest bite in their race to be ready for launch.
A Mercury drive-by - The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission made its second gravity assist around Mercury, capturing new close-up images of the planet. The closest approach took place at 09:44 on 23 June and came within just 200 km of the planet’s surface. This is the second of six flybys of the planet before the spacecraft enters orbit around Mercury in 2024.
I hope the porch pirates don’t get it - UK-based Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd has shipped the 100 kg THEOS-2 SmallSAT Earth Observation satellite to the Thai Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency. Manufactured in the UK under a four-year “customer training programme,” the THEOS-2 SmallSAT is a one-metre-resolution-class Earth Observation satellite with both still and video imaging capability.
A free ride to space - DLR has launched the second round of a competition for small satellites to fly aboard microlaunchers developed and constructed in Germany. The competition is part of the agency’s Microlauncher Competition that saw Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory Augsburg win the right to launch the payloads. This new phase will allow companies and institutions to secure free flights for their payloads aboard two RFA One flights and one Spectrum flight in 2023 and 2024. Each mission will carry a total of 150 kg of payloads free of charge.
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Andrew Parsonson

A weekly European spaceflight update with exclusive infographics, in-depth analysis, and a review of the week's biggest announcements.

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