Musk and Bezos Have a New Rival. Porsche Just Joined the Space Race

And it could substantially lower the cost.
Brad Bergan
An artist's impression of the Spectrum rocket.Isar Aerospace

It turns out, the space race has turned into a competitive market.

On the heels of the success of billionaire celebrities like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson, Porsche is investing in a German rocket start-up called Isar Aerospace, in a bid to capture early access to nascent space technologies, according to an initial report from the Financial Times.

And even if Porsche isn't up to the challenge, it could still bring advanced space tech into the automotive industry, which would be a substantial advantage.

Porsche invested in a low-key aerospace company

The automaker joined a new group of investors, HV Capital and Lombard Odier, and thrown $75 million into the mix, which lifts the total Series B funding round to an astounding $165 million. While the startup is still low-key, its ambitions are extremely high, aiming to compete with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX by providing a less expensive means to launch low-Earth orbit satellites. Of course, it's less expensive on the scale of major corporations. But earlier this year, the company started to build its Spectrum rocket, which uses 3D printing and automation to cut down costs of production.

The launch vehicle, Spectrum, is a two-stage system designed to optimize the deployment of future satellite constellations. It can lift up to 2,200 lbs (1,000 kg), and employs a multi-ignition second-stage rocket to push high-altitude payloads into their final orbital trajectory. While this is, again, ambitious, the firm's prospective candidacy as a significant rival to SpaceX and Blue Origin is also worth interrogating. In the three years since its founding, Isar has raised only $180 million, which isn't very much when it comes to consistent space travel systems, if you can believe it. The company also hasn't launched any satellites into space, which means if it fell apart now, it would have accomplished little to nothing. But fear not: There still exists room for optimism.

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Porsche could bring high-tech space software to the auto industry

In May of this year, Isar became the first European company to nail a contract from the European Space Agency (ESA), nabbing $13 million from the government of Germany to lift two satellites to low-Earth orbit. The firm also aims to design reusable rockets someday, which could put it ahead of comparable early-stage space ventures, who've yet to fully match SpaceX's Falcon 9 system. One way or another, we'll find out what Spectrum has to offer when it launches in 2022.

"We are convinced that cost-effective and flexible access to space will be a key enabler for innovations in traditional industries as well as for new and disruptive technologies and business models," said Porsche Executive Lutz Meschke, in the Financial Times report. Obviously, Porsche's niche, if we're calling it that, lies in the automotive industry. But with cars become increasingly stuffed with fresh electronics and software, having a wing that develops and delivers high-tech soft- and hardware to space could serve as a critical advantage in the highly competitive auto market. Additionally, if Porsche acquired its own GPS satellite systems, it would mean direct access to location data, which would not only increase the appeal of joining the Porsche-owners' club, but also serve as a proprietary service the company could lease out to other companies, if they felt like it. While it's not overwhelmingly likely that Porsche will ever tread water against SpaceX, it's better to fall short of high goals than to stay in one's increasingly crowded lane.