German Satellite Mass Manufacturing

The German Industry Association (BDI) has recently published a paper with recommendations regarding (Key Component – Small Satellites | LinkedIn). In this white paper BDI argues that the German government should increase the government spending on space to create technologies and foster mass manufacturing of small satellites (<500kg) made in Germany.

While I am very grateful for the support the BDI is giving to the industry, I would like to express a dissenting opinion on which measures should be taken. Let’s have a look!

Technology is not the problem…

Germany’s problem is not the absence of technology. There are multiple flight proven small satellite platforms readily available in industry. This easily covers 1kg to 500kg.

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On subsystem level there is a similar image. For every bus subsystem in every class of small satellite there are multiple flight proven systems from various suppliers.

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Germany even has a few very strong players in the field of component and small satellite mass manufacturing. BDI rightfully points out that these technologies are being used successfully outside Germany. That this does not happen inside Germany is not a question of capability it is a question of demand.

The technology to mass manufacture satellites already exists in Germany.

Berlin Space Technologies has built a factory to mass manufacture satellites.

That this factory is not in Germany is due to lack of local demand.

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Money is not the problem…

Germany spends a large amount of money on space. So the 50MEUR per year that BDI is asking for the German small satellite factory initiative does not seem much. However, you can always ask for more but what you should actually do is to spend the money smarter.

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The majority of the German budget goes towards the European Space Agency (ESA). You may ask the question whether Germany really appropriately benefits from spending 40% of the ESA human space flight budget – no less than 228 MEUR per year!

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Another gas guzzler as to the German space budget is the launcher department. Here in particular the never ending development of Ariane 6. Once a European success story, Ariane is today is a very good example of the misery the European space industry is in.

Germany spends 250MEUR per year on Ariane, Vega, Kourou via ESA.

With this money they could fund Falcon 9 development in less than 2 years!

It is important to remember that Germany could actually afford finance an entire Falcon 9 development ($390M – $300M for Falcon 9 and $90M for Falcon 1) in just two years if the money for Ariane 6 would have been spent on a company as efficient as SpaceX.

Falcon 9, Falcon 9 Heavy and Crew Dragon together cost 1 Billion less to develop than the not yet ready Ariane 6.

Considering what SpaceX has achieved with significantly less of the R&D budget that ESA has spent on – the not yet working – Ariane 6 it begs the question whether it is time that we should stop riding the dead horse or whether we continue to throw good money after bad.

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The things look a little better in the national budget. If only because there is far less money to waste. That does not mean that the national budget is free of pitfalls.

Considering that the annual budget on Earth Observation is only 31MEUR, is it a good idea to spend on missions that cost as much 100-200 MEUR? Dr Gruppe – former head of DLR Agency – expressed that: The days of the 200 MEUR satellites are over… | LinkedIn.

The money for the BDI small satellite initiative could be found. Due to post covid budget constraints it will have to replace other less productive space spending.

My conclusion is that if BDI really thinks a strategic small satellite initiative is key to the future of the German space industry, then this money could and should be found.

My reading of the recent discussion in the Space Cafe Germany – Election Special | LinkedIn is however that it will be taken from within the existing space budget. Lets see whether the new government and the industry incumbents are open to such discussions.

Why are 60% of all satellites build in the USA

The answer is straight forward but different from what BDI thinks. Germany has the technology and the money but we are using it wrong. Instead of asking what type of solutions we can deliver and how the business case would look, most space industry meetings are dominated by petty discussions who gets what from the government.

If want to have a notable production of satellites in the country then we need applications. Unfortunately, there is a huge disconnect between entrepreneurs that want to build solutions and German space industry. And even worse, the way we do space creates this disconnect.

Germany is late (possibly too late) to the game

Recently there was a strong public discussion that German companies should participate to larger effect in the European mega constellation initiative from Commissioner Breton.

When Commissioner Breton announced his initiative for a European communication mega constellation many in Germany felt a French bureaucrat was supporting the French Industry.

Somehow I felt that the underlying suspicion was: a French bureaucrat is supporting the French industry. I personally think this feeling is ill-advised. To my personal observation the overwhelming majority of the German space industry is in a state of sedated slumber. The business is 95% ESA and DLR anyway – so why waste effort on commercial opportunities?

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Note: I have removed OHB commercial satellite GMS-T as it was built in Sweden. GMS-T (

Yes, France supports it’s space industry more than Germany. French embassies open doors in export markets and support them with political initiative as well as export credits. That this is effective can be seen by the many successful sales of Airbus France and Thales. France also came up with a 200 MEUR R&D support program to foster component manufacturing for the OneWeb program. The truth however is, Germany could have easily done the same but did not – why, because it was not requested by the key players (instead they asked for more ESA and DLR money).

In the last decade French space companies have sold 500 satellites. Most of them in telecom constellations. German companies have sold less than 10 – all individual.

When commissioner Breton was looking who could potentially build his constellation it was natural to look towards France. The Thales factory in Toulouse built Global Star (2nd gen) and Iridium Next almost a decade before the current mega constellation hype. The Airbus prototype factory (for OneWeb) which is also located in Toulouse can manufacture a minimum of 1 satellite per day.

France built an extensive heritage in mass manufacturing of commercial satellites. During the same time Germany slept.

In the last decades while France went out and about – Germany remained inert. This may have become become apparent to the decision makers only now but it is only the end of a long development. I personally understand the FOMO (fear of missing out) of the traditional German space industry in the NewSpace boom but they may have simply slept too long.

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It makes both me sad and immensely proud that Berlin Space Technologies presently is Germany’s best shot at mass manufacturing of small satellites.

While there are plenty of credible options for satellite mass manufacturing in France, there are very few in Germany.

Beware – The Henry Ford Moment is coming

DigitalCommons@USU – Small Satellite Conference: Mass Manufacturing of Small Satellites, Gearing up for the Henry Ford Moment

There is a big chance that it is already, too late. The Henry Ford Moment is in full swing and Germany is late to the party.

If the car industry is any indicator, 90% of the space industry will die or zombify in the upcomming mass manufacturing revolution.

With the exception of Berlin Space Technologies which started its developing technologies for satellite mass manufacturing in 2014 and will open its factory (250+ per year capacity) in September 2021 there is really not much Germany has to show in the field of mass manufacturing of small satellite.

Germany needs to re-invent how space is done in for its space industry to have a fighting chance in the Henry Ford Moment

Therefore, if Germany wants to participate in the commercial space boom and want its space industry to survive massive consolidation and die-off brought about by the Henry Ford Moment of space, we need nothing less than to re-invent our industry.

Don’t wait for the government if you want to do commercial satellite manufacturing.

This will start by asking different questions, from how can I get money from the government to, what solutions can I build and what is the business case.

How can you help:

This text is part of a series of articles in which the author sets the framework to start a discussion about the wrongs of the space industry. If you have experienced similar things, leave a comment. Other views and opinions are very welcome, too, as they may present a way forward. Please be kind to each other.


The author’s views are his own do not represent the views of Berlin Space Technologies.






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