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