Who Can Build a Rocket Faster – the UK or Germany?

Amidst the boom in the commercial space industry, Europe is waiting to see which countries will prove to be world leaders in space technology in the years to come. With their proud traditions of excellence in design and manufacture, both the UK and Germany seem poised to play a major role in the European space market. The European Space Agency has provided investment to space technology firms in both countries, from Germany’s Rocket Factory Augsburg to British firms like Skyrora and Orbex.

It appears that the ESA is keen to encourage competition within Europe’s space industry and see which companies will be the first to complete their designs and start launching rockets into space. Broadly speaking, the activities of the ESA unite both the UK space industry and the German space market to contribute products and expertise to the organisation’s broader goals. However, this cooperative endeavour doesn’t mean that either country is less determined to try to launch their rockets into space first.

Survey Reveals National Differences

A recent study conducted by Survey Lab aimed to examine the differences in opinion among the German and British public about their respective space industries. A similar majority were clueless about their nation’s space industry in both cases, with 57% of British and 55% of German respondents knowing nothing about current space activity. For the most part, however, this is where the similarities in responses stop.

The survey results suggest markedly different attitudes in both countries about potential enthusiasm for expanding the space industry and the possible directions that expansion could take. Upon learning of their country’s current space industry, only 35% of Germans agreed that developing infrastructure such as spaceports would be critical to the industry’s future. In contrast, 53% of British respondents agreed that such development would be essential to the sector’s future.

When respondents were asked to list possible applications of space technology by order of priority, both countries were united in listing high-speed and affordable internet access as the highest. Beyond this, though, significant differences emerge. Germans gave the highest priority to solutions in healthcare and agriculture while awarding the lowest priority to military applications and the colonization of Mars, the Moon, and space outside of the solar system. In contrast, UK respondents awarded high priority to healthcare, military applications, and space exploration and colonization.

Some of the reasons behind the differences in response seem obvious. Germans seem less enamoured of the idea of using space technology for military use and space colonisation, perhaps due to issues surrounding the legacy of the country’s role in World War II. Additionally, their leading role in the EU perhaps gives them a more cooperative attitude to Europe’s space market. The British, in comparison, are often more ambitious about their country with a strong sense of national pride. Combined with their island mentality and the history of the empire, it’s easy to see why the British public would be more in favour of a UK space industry, putting itself in direct competition with its neighbours to lead the market.

Does the UK Space Industry Have Greater Potential for Growth?

Overall, the Survey Lab studies results seem to indicate a disparity in the potential enthusiasm each country’s citizens might have for a programme of space development. “Made in Britain” is often a selling point in British commerce, and the British are more openly inspired by the idea of their country competing in the marketplace. In a post-Brexit Europe, this feeling seems to have been strengthened.

Additionally, British space companies tend to market their products more ambitiously than their German counterparts, with firms like Skyrora and Orbex branding their products as ecological solutions to the big issues of today. German companies like Rocket Factory Augsburg prefer to emphasize the cost reductions and efficiency that their products can offer over the competition.

An argument could be made that this difference in philosophy runs throughout national attitudes towards manufacture and engineering in both countries: German industry has always prided itself on efficiency and refinement, whereas British manufacture seems to privilege innovation and novel forward-thinking.

This suggests that Germany’s space industry will face greater challenges in trying to generate enthusiasm among the public for aggressive development of the sector. UK entrepreneurs and politicians are also often faster to promote their accomplishments and ambitions. This might be why, in the survey, 23% of British respondents stated they know at least one local company developing rockets, compared to only 15% of Germans.

Conclusion: Germany at a Disadvantage

Suppose Britain and Germany are to come out on top in the “new space” era. In that case, they will need sustained support from the government and investment to execute the kind of projects that will capture the public’s imagination. It is not enough for German space firms to solely rely on funding from the ESA to make their country a world leader on the global stage. The British public appears to have a greater appetite for prestigious economic development and responds positively to the idea of the UK space industry playing a leading role on the global stage.

Arguably, the most effective way for both countries to generate enthusiasm would be to carry out a successful rocket launch under their national flag. Firms in both Britain and Germany have announced rocket launches scheduled for 2022. Once the public has some evidence of the space industry’s output, enthusiasm for the sector will surely develop. Until then, it remains to be seen which country will have the bragging rights of launching their rocket first.