A European firm aiming to rival SpaceX just raised $168 million

Munich-based Isar Aerospace aims to launch its Spectrum rocket to orbit later this year.
Chris Young
Isar Aerospace's Aquila engine during a test.
Isar Aerospace's Aquila engine during a test.

Isar Aerospace 

German rocket manufacturer Isar Aerospace raised €155 million ($167.57 million) in a new financing round, a report from Reuters reveals.

The Munich-based firm aims to perform its first launch in the second half of the year, and the new investment is part of a wider push aimed at preventing the European space industry from falling behind.

Isar Aerospace hails important milestone on "path to orbit"

The investors in the new funding round for Isar Aerospace include Porsche SE, which will join the supervisory board alongside HV Capital, according to a statement from the company.

"This funding round is an important milestone on our path to orbit," Isar Aerospace CEO Daniel Metzler explained. The firm's Chief Financial Officer, David Kownator, added that it has now raised a total of €310 million, and it now has a higher value than in the previous financing round in 2021.

Isar Aerospace hopes to perform the maiden flight of its Spectrum launch vehicle later this year. Spectrum was designed to put small and medium-sized satellites into orbit from the Norwegian Andøya Space launch facility – the company has signed a 20-year exclusivity deal with Andøya Space for one of its launch pads.

Though the company has yet to reach orbit, it has carried out numerous hot fire tests of the Aquila engine that will power its Spectrum launch vehicle.

Is Europe's space industry lagging behind?

Last week, a panel commissioned by the European Space Agency released a report warning that Europe is at risk of missing out on the next big tech boom if it doesn't improve its launch capabilities and channel more funds toward its space industry.

The report calls for a plan to get European astronauts on the lunar surface "within ten years."

Today, there are only two operational European rockets today: ArianeGroup's heavy-lift Ariane 5 and Italian firm Avio's Vega launch vehicle. However, a number of startups are looking to fill the gap in the launch market, including Spain's PLD Space, which is on the verge of launching a reusable suborbital test rocket called Miura 1.

Can any company catch up with SpaceX?

SpaceX is undeniably ahead of the pack when it comes to launching capabilities – so much so that NASA is currently completely reliant on the private space firm to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

So talk of competing with SpaceX requires a little context. For perspective, one of SpaceX's biggest private competitors, Rocket Lab, is yet to fly its next-generation Neutron rocket, which it hopes will allow it to compete with SpaceX's current-gen Falcon 9.

SpaceX, meanwhile, is looking to perform the orbital maiden flight of its massive Mars rocket, Starship, next month. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently warned that a successful orbital flight of Starship isn't guaranteed on its first attempt. The same will be true for all startups aiming to reach orbit with their new launch vehicles for the first time.

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