Car manufacturer Porsche has entered a whole new kind of race by investing in German rocket start-up Isar Aerospace, which aims to take on the likes of Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic in the sprint for the stars.
Unlike its competitors, Isar is not backed by a billionaire owner and is yet to conduct a launch – but capital provided by Porsche is expected to help the company improve its highly automated rocket manufacturing processes.
Earlier this year, Isar began production of its launch vehicle, Spectrum. Containing 3D-printed components, Spectrum has been designed to carry payloads weighing up to 1,000 kilograms (2,204 pounds) into low-Earth orbit at low cost, while its multi-ignition second-stage engine provides flexibility by delivering satellites directly to their final orbital trajectory.
The launcher uses Isar’s in-house developed Aquila engine, which runs on a combination of light hydrocarbons and liquid oxygen, generating less pollution than common fuels.
While Jeff Bezos and Sir Richard Branson have both made major moves in the billionaire space race over the past few weeks, Isar is not currently planning any manned spaceflights and does not intend to get on the dancefloor with the other companies seeking to control the space tourism sector. Instead, it plans to compete for a share of the growing market for launching small and medium-sized satellites, which is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.
In a statement, Isar announced that satellite technologies are increasingly being relied upon by a range of industries, including the automotive and telecoms sectors, “as well as smart farming applications and surveillance for tackling climate change.”
Yet, as Porsche points out in a statement, “existing launch capacities are not sufficient or too expensive or inflexible,” and therefore represent a major barrier for many smaller firms wishing to launch their own satellites.
However, thanks to its highly automated production processes, Isar is able to “satisfy this demand in a more cost-effective and flexible way compared to established space companies,” Porsche's statement also explained. By aligning itself with Isar, Porsche hopes to gain an early hold on these highly useful space technologies and has therefore joined forces with other investors such as HV Capital and Lombard Odier in order to inject $75 million into the start-up.
Spectrum’s first launch is scheduled to take place in the second half of 2022, with a further three to four launches expected the following year. Ultimately, Isar hopes to conduct around ten launches a year, allowing tech firms to send their satellite constellations into space for a fraction of the current price.