Rocket maker Isar Aerospace today announced a $165m Series C — 2023's biggest spacetech round globally so far. The Munich-based startup, which hopes to send its first rocket to space later this year, has now raised $330m in less than five years, from investors including Airbus’s VC arm and former SpaceX executive Bülent Altan. It’s the best-capitalised private spacetech in Europe, with Finnish satellite maker Iceye running a close second with $304m raised.
What does Isar Aerospace do?
Isar Aerospace was founded in 2018 as a spinout from the Technical University of Munich, and is attempting to rival Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX for satellite launch services.
Spectrum, the rocket Isar is developing, is a two-stage vehicle designed to place up to 1,000kgs into low Earth orbit.
Isar leads the pack of German rocket challengers. Among the others are Munich-based The Exploration Company, which is prototyping reusable rockets and in February announced European spacetech’s biggest ever Series A (€40m). An hour’s drive northwest of Munich is Augsburg, home of yet another satellite launcher, Rocket Factory, which is also working towards a test launch later this year.
Isar’s first and second missions, which will lift off from its own launchpad in Andøya, Norway, will carry European satellites that were selected as part of a competition run by German space agency DLR.
If early flights are a success, the company hopes to quickly get to 10 launches a year, eventually rising to 30-40 annually. Companies signed up to use Isar’s services include space logistics company D-Orbit, French satellite startup Exotrail and US launch company Spaceflight.
Isar’s Series C is backed by investors including:
- 7-Industries Holding, which led the round
- Bayern Kapital
- Earlybird Venture Capital
- HV Capital
- Lombard Odier Investment Managers
- Luxury carmaker Porsche
- UVC Partners
- Vsquared Ventures
Is European spacetech taking off?
Isar’s raise is huge money for European space but still miles behind the kind of cash SpaceX pulls in. VC firm Andreessen Horowitz is reported to be leading a $750m round for Musk’s company this year.
Europe desperately trails when it comes to satellite launch services. “We basically don’t have sovereign launch facilities at the moment; if the US is fibre optic broadband, we’re still using a 20 kB/s copper line,” Isar cofounder and CEO Daniel Metzler tells Sifted.
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Concerns over Europe’s independent access to space were raised after the continent’s newest rocket, Vega-C, which is operated by France’s Arianespace, failed on launch in December. Then, one month later, the UK’s attempt to become the first nation in western Europe to launch small satellites from its own soil also failed.
European Space Agency director-general Josef Aschbacher has called the lack of launchers “a crisis”, with the agency forced to book missions with SpaceX as it waits for new European services to become available.
Looking to the US, Metzler credits Nasa and its market-led reforms for helping to create a relatively large space industry, with the space agency giving the private sector greater power to decide where and how to build launch systems.
“I think what’s required is for us to rethink our approach; we’re doing this, but the pace needs to go up massively,” Metzler says.
Metzler adds he “is thinking a lot” about how to compete with SpaceX — startups say the US rocket is the cheapest ride for their satellites — highlighting Isar’s “high degree of automation” in manufacturing, which he says will give it an edge on cost.
The fresh cash will be used by Isar to strengthen its production line and prepare for launch.