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Let’s talk about RFA

Europe in Space
Issue 22. Subscribers: 456
I’m a little late today, but I think it’s worth it. To my 12 new subscribers, welcome and enjoy your first issue.

A closer look at Rocket Factory Augsburg
Last week, I was lucky enough to get a look at the RFA ONE User Guide. The guide is currently only being made available to potential customers and offers a great deal of unannounced insight into both the vehicle and Rocket Factory Augsburg as a company. Although I can’t reveal all of those insights yet, I thought I’d take a closer look at a company I believe to be at the forefront of affordable commercial launch services in Europe.
The company
Rocket Factory Augsburg was founded in August 2018 as a spin-off of German space tech giant OHB via MT Aerospace Holdings. As of 2022, the company employs approximately 220 people and has offices, manufacturing sites, and test facilities in Germany, Portugal, and Sweden.
Although there are no specific details about the company’s funding, RFA does count Apollo Capital Partners and Kalodion as two of its major investors alongside MT Aerospace Holdings. 
According to RFA, OHB’s baking, through MT Aerospace Holdings, has and will continue to make a significant impact on the company’s success. It is also currently in talks with other potential investors.  
“In OHB, we have a very strong investor who not only brings financial backing but also expertise and experience,” RFA told European Spaceflight. “In addition, we are in promising talks with other potential investors.”
The vehicle
The RFA ONE is a three-stage launch vehicle capable of deploying up to 1,300 kg payloads into low Earth Orbit. The vehicle is constructed out of stainless steel, a decision CEO Stefan Tweraser attributes to the material being “optimized for performance and cost.” It stands at 30 metres tall with a diameter of 2 metres. A maiden flight of the vehicle is currently scheduled for 2023.
The first and second stages of the rocket are both powered by the company’s LOX/RP-1 staged-combustion Helix engine, which it touts as being the only one of its kind in Europe. The first stage utilises nine Helix engines, each producing 100 kN with an ISP of 325 seconds. The second stage makes use of one vacuum-optimized Helix engine producing 100 kN with an ISP of 350 seconds.
To date, a flight configuration Helix engine has completed a 74-second long-duration hot fire test campaign. An integrated stage test of the engine is expected to take place later this year.
Much less is known about the propulsion system for the third stage. According to RFA, it’s a re-ignitable green propellant engine. However, thanks to my look into the RFA ONE User Guide, we also know that the engine provides a specific impulse of >300 s with up to 1.5 kN thrust and 2.5 km/s ΔV.
During a conversation with Tweraser for the European Spaceflight Podcast earlier this year, the CEO explained that the third stage is “instrumental to the way we serve space.” Tweraser went on to explain that the third stage engine would be “part of an orbital transfer vehicle that can stay in space between three and five years.
Potential applications for the multiuse third stage include the precise deployment of multiple satellites for rideshare missions, in-orbit servicing, and, at the end of its life, the targeted removal of space debris.
While many small launch companies are making reusability a core tenant of their design and marketing material, RFA has mostly avoided talking about their reusability efforts. However, the company is planning to recover its first stage for reuse using a system that will make use of parachutes. Over and above that, little is known about the system.
Launch sites
RFA is examing the use of several launch facilities. Currently, the company is expected to complete its maiden flight from either Andøya Space in Norway or Esrange Space Center in Sweden. 
In February, RFA signed an agreement with South Launch in Australia to launch its RFA ONE vehicle from Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex in South Australia. The facility provides direct ascent into sun-synchronous and polar orbits.
The company was also recently preselected by CNES to launch its RFA ONE vehicle from a new commercial launch facility being created at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana.
In addition to the above, RFA is also examining additional launch facilities.
RFA is targeting an aggressive starting launch price of just €3 million. However, even CEO Stefan Tweraser acknowledges that this is an ambitious goal. 
During our podcast interview, Tweraser explained that the €3 million price target served as a marker for technical decisions and a declaration of intent to the industry.
“It helps our engineers think about cost when they make technical decisions,” Tweraser told me. “It’s also a signal to the market to say that getting stuff into space doesn’t need to be expensive.”
If the company does manage to get anywhere close to €3 million, it would make the vehicle incredibly competitive, possibly even with rideshare market leader SpaceX.
With its 1,300 kg payload capacity, the RFA ONE is, on paper at least, the most capable commercial vehicle being developed by a European launch startup. It also makes it significantly more powerful than international competitors, with the Rocket Lab Electron capable of just 300 kg per flight and Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One 500 kg per flight. This enables RFA to offer larger rideshare missions at more affordable prices.
To accommodate these rideshare missions and equip the RFA ONE for a wider array of missions, RFA will offer the vehicle with three different fairing sizes. The standard fairing is approximately 3.8 metres tall, with a max inner diameter of 2.1 metres. The largest of the RFA ONE fairing options is approximately 8 metres tall with a max inner diameter of 3.3 metres.
What’s next?
With small launch vehicles like the Rocket Lab Electron struggling to break even, many providers, including Rocket Lab, are looking at larger vehicles. Although the RFA ONE is already much more capable than many competitors, RFA has already begun to plan a more capable vehicle with the unannounced RFA ONE MAX. However, there are currently very few, if any, confirmed details. If nothing else, it’s something to look forward to as we wait patiently for that maiden RFA ONE flight in 2023.
A Viking goes to space - ESA unveiled the mission name and patch for Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen’s return to the International Space Station for his first long-duration stay. Mogensen was selected for the SpaceX Crew-7 mission in March 2022. When the mission is launched in mid-2023, Mogensen will be the first non-American to serve as a pilot aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon. The European segment of the mission will be called Huginn. The name comes from Norse mythology, with the raven Huginn tasked by Odin to fly across the world to gather information.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Dawn Aerospace! - Netherlands-based spaceplane startup Dawn Aerospace published a short video of its small Mk-II Aurora demonstrator touching down on a runway. According to CEO Stefan Powell, the company has completed nearly 40 flights with a jet engine and is almost ready to perform the first test flights with a pump-fed rocket engine. The Mk-II Aurora is 4.8-metre suborbital spaceplane designed to be capable of reaching an altitude of approximately 110 km carrying a 3U payload. The spaceplane will serve as a technical stepping stone to the larger Mk-III spaceplane which will be capable of deploying 250 kg satellites into orbit. 
I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request - The UK government began legal proceedings against the European Union for blocking its access to scientific research programmes, including the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe research programme. “The EU is in clear breach of our agreement, repeatedly seeking to politicise vital scientific cooperation by refusing to finalise access to these important programmes. We cannot allow this to continue,” said Foreign Secretary Liz Trus.
It’s the future, man! - French satellite operator Eutelsat’s Quantum satellite officially entered service after being launched aboard an Ariane 5 in July 2021. The satellite is Europe’s first commercial satellite capable of being completely reprogrammed while in space. Eutelsat has sold six of its eight beams (used for data and mobile communications) and expects the remaining two to be taken in the coming months. The Eutelsat Quantum project was a collaboration under an ESA Partnership Project between Eutelsat and satellite manufacturer Airbus, with significant support from the UK Space Agency. 
Vertical integration comes to Bulgaria - Bulgarian satellite manufacturer EnduroSat announced it would open a nanosat laboratory in Sofia by the end of August. The announcement was made by founder Raicho Raichev during a meeting with the Bulgarian minister of innovation and growth Alexander Pulev. EnduroSat has invested almost BGN 4.2 million (approximately €2.1 million) in the new facility which will close the company’s production cycle, ensuring that it can perform all aspects of the satellite development process in-house. I have not been able to find a primary source for this, but the one linked appears to be solid.
Power from the SUN - ESA officially unveiled its SOLARIS space-based solar power initiative. I took a look at the initial RFI for the project a few weeks ago in Issue 19. The goal of the project is to establish the technical, political, and programmatic basis of a decision on a European space-based solar power development programme by 2025. ESA will present the programme for adoption at the ESA ministerial-level meeting in November. “It will be up to Europe, ESA, and its member states to push the envelope of technology to solve one of the most pressing problems for people on Earth of this generation,” said ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher.
Getting a spacecraft bikini weather ready - Franco-German space startup The Exploration Company continued to make progress on its Bikini reentry demonstrator, performing an integrated antenna test. The spacecraft is a small tech demo of the company’s Nyx spacecraft that will be launched aboard the maiden Ariane 6 mission in 2023. Nyx is module spacecraft designed to initially offer an affordable alternative to the International Space Station for in-orbit experimentation. Future iterations of the spacecraft will offer access to the surface of the Moon.
My dog ate my application - The European Space Resources Innovation Centre (ESRIC) has extended the deadline for applications to its Startup Support Programme to 25 September.  ESRIC was launched in November 2020 with the aim of offering dedicated support to startups pursuing space resource utilization projects. The centre is led by the Luxembourg Space Agency and the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, with ESA acting as a strategic partner. As part of its mission, ESRIC selects five startups twice a year to receive €200,000 and ESRIC support as part of its startup Support Programme.
Sentinel-1B may be gone, but Sentinel-1 lives on - A full automated global flood monitoring system powered by Sentinel-1 data is operational. The open access service is coordinated by the Joint Research Center as part of the Copernicus Emergency Management Services, which is run by the European Commission. The service is freely accessible via the Global Flood Awareness Systems and allows users to download an array of data as well as receive web push notifications for specified areas of interest of detected flood events.
Ye cannae use the name of the wee Star Wars robot - Scottish satellite-communications scale-up R3-IoT has rebranded to Krucial. According to the company, the new name represents the “importance of making digital transformation available for all, no matter location or conditions.” With the rebranding came the launch of its flagship product, Krucial Connect. The software platform allows users to access data from IoT devices using a combination of satellites and cellular networks.
A new eye in the sky for Ukraine - Finish Earth Observation data provider ICEYE signed a contract with Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation to provide the Government of Ukraine with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite imaging capabilities. As part of the agreement, ICEYE will transfer the full capabilities of one of its SAR satellites already in orbit for the Government of Ukraine’s use over the region. 
We’re one step closer to the launchpad laddie - Scottish launch startup Skyrora has fired up the second stage of its Skyrora XL rocket for the first time. The 75 kN Skyforce engine completed a 20-second burn during which it performed, according to Skyrora, within design parameters while achieving the expected thrust. Skyrora expects to test the rocket’s first stage by mid-2023, ahead of a maiden Skyrora XL flight in late 2023.
Since you read to the end, below is a little look at how Issue 21 of the European Spaceflight newsletter was received.
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Andrew Parsonson

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