The German government supports plans for a North Sea spaceport that would be used to launch small satellites into space from Europe, it has been revealed.
Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said the government would act as an "anchor customer" for the floating launch site off the German coast.
The northern city of Bremen and the port at Bremerhaven are at the heart of the project. Rockets would be loaded on to a specially equipped ship and taken to the edge of German waters in the North Sea.
The rocket would then be raised and fired from the back of the ship, under the concept by the German Offshore Spaceport Alliance.
"We want to strengthen the national space programme," Mr Altmaier said at an event marking the signing of co-operation agreements between the alliance and four European rocket manufacturers – two from Germany, one from the Netherlands and one from Britain.
The fast-growing space race and demands for services on Earth means that by 2028 four times more satellites than in the past decade will be launched with the vast majority small or micro craft, the alliance says.
Siegfried Russwurm, head of the German industry association BDI, said a spaceport in the North Sea would make it easier to launch satellites into polar and sun-synchronous orbits.
There are more than 20 spaceports around the world but European space companies rely mostly on Russia's site in Kazakhstan, French Guiana in South America and the US for launches.