Isar's Spectrum rocket

Credit: Isar

A German rocket company has secured backing from the family behind sports car maker Porsche as the country seeks to build a homegrown rival to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Isar Aerospace secured $75m (£54m) in a funding round supported by investors including Porsche SE, which is still owned by the eponymous Porsche dynasty.

Isar, a company spun out of Munich Technical University, is building a lightweight rocket designed for small satellites, aiming to provide cheaper and more flexible launches than current leaders.

The new investment brings the total funding in Isar to $180m, with further backing from existing investors Airbus Ventures and Lakestar.

The investment comes a week after Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, successfully flew to the edge of space aboard his company Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.

The space race is intensifying as Mr Bezos vies with other billionaire including Sir Richard Branson and Mr Musk. Britain is also getting in on the act, with the state purchase of broadband satellite company Oneweb last year and plans to open a Cornwall spaceport as soon as 2022.

Isar is hoping to tap into the demand for small-capacity rockets as companies look to launch constellations consisting of hundreds of low-orbit small satellites.

The start-up says it will make launches more flexible using single-use rockets that are designed to carry payloads of around 1,000kg, compared to the 20,000kg loads that can be fired into orbit aboard a reusable SpaceX Falcon 9.

It also presents a challenge to France’s Arianespace, the preferred launch partner of European space exploration that is looking increasingly expensive against SpaceX’s reusable rockets.

Europe lacks domestic launch facilities, with most of the European Space Agency’s missions relying on Russian infrastructure. Isar has promised to use a launch site based at Andøya in Norway, a member of the European Economic Area and Nato ally, with its first missions from mid-2022.

Isar’s technology has yet to fly its first mission. The company is thought to be valued at around $550m.

Today, the Porsche-Piech family holds a 31pc of Volkswagen, which in turn owns Audi and Porsche, and 53pc of its voting rights.

Lutz Meschke, a board member at Porsche SE, said the family firm viewed satellites as a key backbone of future connectivity technologies for the automotive and industrial sectors. 

Mr Meschke said: “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. Therefore, we are excited to back Isar Aerospace on its way to become the leading European small-launcher and to meet the increasing appetite for launch services.”