German rocket startup successfully completes full duration engine test of upper stage

The German rocket startup Rocket Factory Augsburg on June 2, 2023 successfully completed a full duration engine test of the upper stage of its rocket.

Launch service provider Rocket Factory Augsburg AG (RFA) has successfully hot fired its upper stage for a full duration of 280 seconds. This marks the successful completion of the Integrated System Test (IST) campaign, in which a staged-combustion Helix engine was integrated into an upper stage tank system and hot fired several times up to full duration in the final test. This is the 1st time in Europe that a privately developed staged combustion upper stage has been successfully hot fired.

The company will also use the Helix engine in its first stage, so this test essentially proved its capability for that use as well. With this success, the company will now start constructing the first stage, with the first launch of the entire rocket targeting the end of this year.

Two important tidbits about this story. First, the test was done at a private testing facility in Germany. In the past all such testing was done under the control of the the European Space Agency, at its sites. Germany has essentially now broken that monopoly in its push to develop its own independent rocket industry of competing private companies.

Second, the launch is presently aiming to take off from a launchpad the company has leased and is building at the new Shetland Island spaceport in the United Kingdom. I wonder if it will have the same regulatory problems as Virgin Orbit in getting its launch permit. If so, that launch won’t happen this year.

Shetland Spaceport now faces same regulatory hurdles that destroyed Virgin Orbit

The new Shetland spaceport, Saxaford, is right now attempting to get launch approvals from United Kingdom’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the same agency that dithered for six months approving a Virgin Orbit launch, thus causing the bankruptcy of that company.

According to Saxaford’s CEO, the spaceport has two launches aiming to launch before the end of this year, assuming the CAA can get its act together and give its approval. This quote however is worrisom:

The Saxavord spaceport says it is “still on track” to receive its necessary licences from the sector’s regulator before the summer. This relates to applications to the Civil Aviation Authority for range and spaceport licences.

Meanwhile SaxaVord CEO Frank Strang said the company is also on track for two rocket launches this year – “albeit they have moved slightly to the right”. [emphasis mine]

The delays could be coming from the rocket companies themselves. One of those companies is the German startup, Rocket Factory Augsburg, which has leased exclusive use of one launchsite. The other is the American startup ABL, which has had one launch attempt from the U.S. that failed.

Based on the CAA’s track record however the delays are just as likely coming from it. The CAA began this licensing process in November 2022, and is not done yet six months later.

First launch from Shetland Islands predicted for the fall

According to an official at the SaxaVord spaceport in the Shetland Islands in Scotland, its first orbital satellite launch is now expected before the end of this year.

Scott Hammond, director of operations at SaxaVord spaceport, acknowledged there is often uncertainty around timetables for private space launches. However, he said a recent agreement with a German company, Rocket Factory Augsburg, would see them begin testing their engines in the summer ahead of a launch later in the year.

He told the Press Association: “Probably in July, we’re going to start full stage testing. That will be the full, first stage, nine engines all firing for about three minutes. So that’ll be really, really impressive. I expect about four months or so of that depending on success. And then we’re looking with Rocket Factory to launch towards the end of the year, for the orbital launch.”

I would not bet a lot of money on this schedule. Rocket Factory is a German rocket startup that has never launched before, and the first launch from such startups are routinely delayed months to years. What Hammond is really doing is creating buzz for SaxaVord, even as a rival spaceport in Sutherland, Scotland, is getting built.

German rocket startup signs deal with UK spaceport

Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), a German rocket startup, has signed a deal with the SaxaVord spaceport in the Shetland Islands of Scotland to fly its first launch from there later this year.

Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) has signed a multi-year deal with the SaxaVord spaceport, being built in Unst, for the first launch of its satellite-carrying rockets. After testing at the site in mid-2023, it hopes to launch to a 500km orbit by the end of the year.

Because of the failure of the Virgin Orbit launch from Cornwall earlier this week, the honor of being the first orbital launch from within the United Kingdom remains ungrabbed. Both SaxaVord and Spaceport Sutherland, also in Scotland but at a different location, are now competing for that honor. Both now have planned launches this year, assuming the Civil Aviation Authority of the UK can issue a permit in less than fifteen months.

Meanwhile, Rocket Factory is competing with two other German startups for the honor of being the first commercial private European rocket company to reach orbit.

Rocket Factory Augsburg signs deal to use German engine test facility

Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), one of three German rocket startups pushing to begin test launches next year, has signed a contract with Germany’s aerospace agency DLR to use of its engine test facility for static fire tests of its Helix engine.

RFA announced the deal at the Space Tech Expo Europe in Bremen, Germany, Nov. 16, which will allow RFA to use the P2.4 test site in Lampoldshausen. DLR provides the basic infrastructure while RFA brings its own test stand and supporting infrastructure.

Test stands in Lampoldshausen have so far only been used by DLR, the European Space Agency and ArianeGroup.

The new test stand will add to RFA engine testing capacity already established in Esrange in northern Sweden, where the company has been conducting testing on the Helix engine for the RFA One launcher. Testing will continue in Sweden but the new development simplifies logistics and bureaucracy related to import and export rules. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted sentence is the news. The German government has decided to break the monopoly held by government related operations of these facilities, and open up their use to private independent commercial companies.

RFA says it already has a dozen customers, and hopes to begin commercial launches by ’24.

German rocket startup unveils 2nd stage

The German rocket startup Rocket Factory Augsburg this week unveiled the second stage of its planned rocket, with its Helix engine attached.

This second stage will be used for engine tests in Sweden.

“The campaign will feature three main tests: The first test will last a few seconds, followed by one for around 10 seconds, then the full flight duration. Every engine is acceptance tested. Then each engine is fired a second time during stage acceptance and then started a third time for flight. We have already proven that we can fire the same engine 3x without switching out components with our long-duration hot-fire campaign. Now we want to repeat that achievement with a full upper stage.”

The company hopes to use this stage in the first orbital test flight of its RFA-1 rocket, targeting a launch late next year. That rocket will use nine more Helix engines in its first stage, and will thus be able to put into orbit slightly more mass than Firefly’s Alpha rocket or payload.

German rocket company successfully tests first stage to failure

Capitalism in space: The German startup rocket company Rocket Factory Augsburg has successfully completed a tank pressure test of its rocket’s core first stage, testing that stage to failure.

The German startup Rocket Factory Augsburg, or RFA, has concluded another test of their RFA One rocket. In the test, the company performed a destructive cryogenic pressure test of their first stage prototype. The company has shown a video in which the prototype stage broke apart after it was fueled with cryogenic nitrogen to test the quality of the welds and determine the pressure at which the structure fails.

The milestone is the latest for the company which is aiming to develop a reusable launch vehicle for small payloads. The first flight of RFA One is currently slated for late 2022, following more testing and development.

The video of the test, with a dramatic soundtrack (as has sadly become the practice today since all life always has its own soundtrack) can be seen at the link.

This company is one of three German private rocket startups vying to enter the smallsat launch market — Isar, RFA, and HyImpulse — with two hoping to make their first launch next year.