On June 2, 2023, Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) successfully completed a 280s hot fire test of its RFA One’s upper stage. With this important achievement, RFA completes the Integrated System Test (IST) campaign and can move forwards to the first launch.
280 seconds of glorious hot fire! 🔥— Rocket Factory Augsburg (@rfa_space) June 2, 2023
We are incredibly proud to be the 1st private company in #Europe (🤯) to hot fire a staged-combustion upper stage for its full duration. This qualifies our upper stage and Helix engine for flight 🚀
Enjoy the video and read more in our press… pic.twitter.com/3sLpeo2NIk
From this test RFA collected precious data, the 280s of steady-state combustion demonstrated correct functioning of all upper stage systems.
“This successful test is a massive leap forward for us. It’s a full confirmation of our strategy to develop a small launcher that is both very powerful and achieves cost-leadership. With this full duration test we have demonstrated again that we are able to complete more milestones with less, but smarter investments than any of our competitors”—Dr. Stefan Tweraser, CEO of RFA
RFA became the first private company in Europe to carry out a successful hot fire test of a stage with staged-combustion engine, qualifying the Helix engine for both first and second stage flight.
Another milestone toward the first launch
Since its foundation in 2018, RFA’s goal has been to provide efficient cost-effective space launches and services, this will be possible thanks to RFA ONE rocket and the Redshift Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV).
In 2020 RFA inaugurated its first engine test site in Esrange, Sweden. The following year the team hot fired for the first time a Helix engine and finalized the qualification of the first stage.
In 2022 Helix has undergone a test campaign, in flight configuration, for a total duration of 74 seconds. The single engine, used in the test, sustained three ignition and shut-down sequences without the need to replace any components.
Now, after completing the 280s hot fire test, RFA will focus on the first stage test campaign with the objective of attempting the maiden launch at the end of this year.
In the meantime, RFA signed important partnerships for its future development by enhancing its test and launch opportunities. In Nov. 2022, RFA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) reached an agreement to build its own test stand at DLR site in Lampoldshausen, Germany. Last January the German company announced an important deal with SaxaVord Spaceport, ensuring exclusive access to Launch Pad Fredo for orbital launches from Shetland.
After winning the second DLR microlauncher competition, RFA secured an €11 million contract under ESA’s Boost! commercial space transportation services program. The financing covers the first and second stage test campaigns and the first two orbital demonstration flights. The German company will launch payloads up to 150 kg as part of the DLR Announcement of Opportunity that aims to sustain the demonstration flights of Isar Aerospace’s Spectrum and RFA ONE rockets.
RFA ONE, a potential game changer in the European small launchers sector
RFA ONE is a three-stage rocket powered by a cluster of 9 Helix engines in the first stage and one Helix VAC engine in the second stage. Helix is an oxygen-rich staged combustion engine with thrust vector control (TVC), propelled by RP-1 and oxygen.
RFA ONE has a capacity of 1,300 kg to Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), 850 kg to Polar Orbit, 300 kg to Lunar transfer orbit (LTO) and 150 kg to GEO.
The rocket can fly in two configurations, the dedicated one and a rideshare transportation that will accommodate different types of satellites. RFA ONE’s structure is made of stainless-steel, and its cost-effective manufacturing takes advantage of serial production strategies and 3D printing. Future versions of RFA ONE will allow first stage recovery and engine reusability.
The Redshift Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) can deploy payloads with high accuracy and altitude/inclination changes, from LEO to GEO. Redshift also provides a variety of In-orbit services, including space debris removal, life extension, and satellite inspection.
For the first time, Europe is experiencing a period of prolific competition between some small companies for a leading position in the sector of small satellite launchers (RFA, Skyrora and Isar Aerospace above all). RFA has shown ambition and important results with efficiency and limited cost, taking a relevant place in this “space race”.