May 07 | 2021
(Europe) Launches Planned from Combi Dock I Vessel
By Malcolm Ramsay
A consortium of offshore specialists and engineering firms plans to develop a new German spaceport utilizing a heavy-load carrying vessel and new facilites at the port of Bremerhaven, as a trend for smaller payloads may transform demand for space cargo.
The German Offshore Spaceport Alliance, or GOSA, comprises a number of leading German firms from across the engineering and breakbulk industries. Heavy-lift shipping firm Harren & Partners is one of the partners and plans to deploy its heavy-load carrier vessel Combi Dock I as the first launch site for the project.
North Sea Launch
Under the proposed plans, the alliance will create the first floating launch platform for small carrier rockets in the North Sea, with land-side logistics handled via a production site in the port of Bremerhaven.
“The concept is that the rockets and satellites will be installed on site in Bremerhaven in a kind of modular system in the respective box. There will be three boxes in total, which will be used in parallel. As far as the ship is concerned: Some minor adjustments would have to be made to the Combi Dock I (lines, power supply, insulation, etc.). However, major conversions are not necessary,” Malte Steinhoff, head of marketing and communications at Harren & Partner Group, told Breakbulk.
Located on the north coast of Germany between Bremen and Hamburg, the port is home to one of the largest terminals for general and heavy-lift cargo in Europe. The Neustädter Hafen logistics center on the left bank of the River Weser specializes in handling breakbulk cargo, and may soon develop a new rocket and satellite production facility.
“All that is still needed is some kind of production hall at the pier in Bremerhaven. This is where the boxes with the rockets and satellites are to be fitted. But that's no big deal. And the ship (as of now the Combi Dock I) already exists,” Steinhoff added.
The port has in recent years built up expertise in handling offshore wind components and capitalized on its position with easy access to multiple North Sea wind farm projects.
The development of production and handling capacity for micro-launchers at the port has the advantage of building on the space expertise in the nearby city of Bremen. Dubbed the German City of Space, the city of more than a half-million residents is home to a successful space community, covering the entire value-added chain from large systems providers to smaller suppliers as well as top-rated research institutes and universities.
The GOSA comprises Harren & Partner, DOC Offshore, BLG Logistics, Media Mobil, Lampe & Schwartze, and OHB. The project is backed by the Federation of German Industries (BDI).
Currently all of Europe’s space launches are carried out from the European Space Agency (ESA) spaceport in Kourou, French Guyana. This site has been operational since 1968, but transport from Europe to French Guiana poses a number of logistical challenges, not least the 8,000 kiometer-distance between the two.
“Of course, we are thinking outside the box and finding inspiration in concepts from other maritime rocket launching sites. When we started the German offshore spaceport project, we agreed that we wanted to keep the costs involved as manageable as possible, and we are still working towards that goal. But there are a few requirements, including safety and environmental considerations, where the price isn’t the first consideration. This is why we need the rocket engineers’ expertise,” said Oliver Spalthoff, managing director of DOC Offshore.
The partners in the spaceport alliance aim to conduct the first launch of a micro launcher from the North Sea in 2023, with rapid growth in demand over the remainder of the decade as miniaturization and industrialization of components help drive cheaper and more attractive access to space-based solutions.
“We have experienced engineers from all maritime engineering disciplines and a diversified fleet of highly specialized offshore ships. I’m thrilled and proud that we can contribute our offshore and maritime transport experience to the German Offshore Spaceport Alliance,” said Martin Harren, managing director at Harren & Partner.
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