21. September 2021 | Magazine:

Sustainable transport system for commercial space travel awarded Innovation Award Lower Saxony 2021 for GAIA Aerospace e.V.

With the Lower Saxony Innovation Award, the state honours forward-looking projects. This time, the “Valkyrie” project won in the Vision category. “Valkyrie” is a system with which small satellites, so-called cubesats, can be transported into orbit at low cost. For this purpose, a launch vehicle is mounted on an aircraft so that it can take off after reaching a certain altitude (air launch). The system is being developed by GAIA Aerospace e.V. from Braunschweig, among others. The association was founded by scientific staff, students and graduates of TU Braunschweig and TU Darmstadt.

The “Valkyrie” carrier system under an Airbus A320. Photo credit: Sascha Power, GAIA Aerospace e.V

The commercialisation of space travel is becoming increasingly important. In addition to globally available high-speed internet from space, there are more and more possible applications for small satellites, especially in the field of earth observation, which are already making a significant contribution to the fight against climate change and its consequences. This year’s winning project from Braunschweig has now found a cost-effective way to bring cubesats into low-Earth orbit. For this purpose, a rocket specially designed for these small satellites is to be built, which can be air-launched. The transport system, named “Valkyrie”, will be mounted under the fuselage of an Airbus A320 and ignited at altitudes of at least ten kilometres.

Cost-effective, flexible, sustainable

The innovation offers a number of advantages: On the one hand, launch costs can be reduced through a reusable first stage. On the other hand, the choice of a small rocket size allows a high degree of individuality for satellite missions, more innovative rocket designs and a high annual number of launches. This in turn allows serial production of the rocket components and thus further cost reductions. “The Airbus A320 offers a launch site-flexible and weather-independent platform that enables a variety of orbits without costly launch delays,” says Kai Höfner, co-founder and chairman of the association.

If everything goes according to plan, the system should be able to transport the first satellites into orbit from a German airport as early as 2025.

The system is being developed by GAIA Aerospace e.V. from Braunschweig and GEPARD-Aerospace GmbH from Faßberg. The association was founded in 2016 by scientific staff, students and graduates of TU Braunschweig and TU Darmstadt. With over 46 partners, the association now represents the largest NewSpace network in the DACH region and implements its own research and development projects in the field of commercial spaceflight.

Award ceremony on 7 September 2021. Photo credit: Henning Scheffen

About the award

The Lower Saxony Innovation Award promotes innovation and change. Outstanding achievements and success stories from Lower Saxony are honoured in three categories (business, cooperation, vision). The award is presented by the Lower Saxony Innovation Network, an association of innovation and business promotion institutions in Lower Saxony. The network supports companies in implementing innovations, cooperating with research institutions and transforming innovative business ideas into economic success. The award, under the patronage of Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economics Dr. Bernd Althusmann and Lower Saxony’s Minister of Science Björn Thümler, was presented on 7 September 2021.