An innovative solution for industrial biotechnologies research in space, named “Eva” was announced on October 18, 2023, at the German Weltraumkongress. Held in Berlin, the space congress has acted as a stage for Rocket Factory Augsburg, ATMOS Space Cargo and Yuri’s joint announcement.
The three companies are working together under the NewSpace economic and industrial effort coming from the German Government. All new private sector investments, including German-made space launch development and research, are grouped into NewSpace.
Each company behind the Eva project has a specific and fundamental role. All must work in unison, like clockwork, to enable the safe delivery, production, and return to Earth of delicate samples and experiments. According to their joint statement, the new service will begin in 2025, launching on the RFA One. It will be a new solution, an alternative to the current research operations being carried out on the ISS.
A new European space launcher
RFA will be launching the payload to space, with their RFA ONE space launcher. The rocket is a multi-stage, low-lift launch system currently under development. It will be able to lift more than 1000 kg to Low Earth Orbit.
With 7 Helix staged-combustion engines powering the first stage and one for the second stage, which has already been successfully tested, it aims to be a cheap and reliable, all-European platform.
According to the press release from RFA, the company will be managing all pre-launch operations, launch services and logistics, with the possibility of late access to the sensible payload, being carried inside the ATMOS Phoenix capsule. The rocket will be launched from the newly renamed SaxaVord Spaceport, formerly the Shetland Space Center in Scotland, and from a dedicated launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana.
An original approach to atmospheric reentry
The Phoenix capsule is an innovative system for payload atmospheric reentry. ATMOS, the German company that’s developing it, is proceeding towards a new inflatable reentry system.
The company started with the Inflatable Atmospheric Decelerator or IAD, being developed to “envelop” spent stages of small rockets or payloads, in a special fabric. The newly engineered heat shield will also act as a high-velocity parachute, decelerating the spacecraft, experiments and other payloads to an acceptable speed for touchdown.
The IAD is custom-made according to the dimensions of the payload, and the heat shield is studied to inflate gradually, taking advantage of the high-speed air. An advantageous consequence is that no fuel is needed for this system to work, having a great impact on emissions reduction and weight saving.
The Phoenix capsule is a controlled environment capsule, able to house a small payload. It is specifically engineered for housing life sciences experiments. Around the pressurized capsule, will be an inflatable heat shield to protect the capsule for reentry. After touchdown, ATMOS will also be taking care of handling the payload and returning it directly to the customer. In this case, the payload will be the Yuri SpaceTaxi research interface.
A small and versatile space incubator
Yuri is the last member of this All-German coalition. Its platform is a space incubator called ScienceTaxi, designed to offer a controlled space for microgravity experiments in Earth Orbit. It is already in use on the International Space Station but it’s capable of being operated on other space capsules or spacecraft. Eva will be housing three stacked bioreactors, to serve multiple customers at the same time.
Biotech research in space is a sector that is poised to explode and flourish in the next few years. A considerable factor in the growth of the worldwide space economy, it’s already bearing fruit. Other companies like Varda and Rocket Lab have partnered together for these ambitious goals, and Europe can’t be any less daring. As Yuri’s co-CEO Maria Birlem stated: “It’s high time Europe takes its rightful place at the forefront of space innovation.”