Europe in Space

By Andrew Parsonson

Maiden flights delayed, but progress continues



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Europe in Space
Issue 15. Subscribers: 341.
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Maiden flights delayed, but progress continues
We’re six months through the year, and it’s time for a little recap of the progress made by the European launch market thus far. At the beginning of the year, a total of eight companies were planning to launch the maiden flight of a new vehicle in 2022. After six months, that’s down to three.
Vega C is scheduled to be launched on its debut flight on 7 July, carrying the LARES 2 passive satellite for the Italian Space Agency along with six secondary payloads. Additionally, Spain’s PLD Space and Germany’s HyImpulse are both scheduled to launch the maiden flights of their suborbital launch vehicles, with both having already started their pre-launch testing campaigns. 
On the flip side, ArianeGroup, Orbex, Skyrora, Isar Aerospace, and Rocket Factory Augsburg, who were all tentatively targeting a 2022 debut for new orbital vehicles, are no longer doing so. Each company has now shifted to targeting 2023 for their maiden flights.
The reasons for the delays are numerous and include long-term covid delays, electronics shortages, supply chain issues, launch facility construction delays, and regulatory hurdles. Much of this is outside the control of these launch startups, and despite these delays, they have shown strong progress in 2022.
UK-based Orbex was founded in 2015 and is developing its Prime launch vehicle, which is capable of deploying up to 180 kg payloads into orbit. 
In February, Orbex submitted an application for a launch license to the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority to launch Prime from Space Hub Sutherland. The company has not yet received the license. According to officials with knowledge of the process, launch licenses are expected to take up to 18 months to be granted. This process is, however, likely to be streamlined as more licenses are processed.
Orbex, along with FORCE Technology, won an ESA contract in March to develop an X-Ray Inspection System for rocket engines. The system will enable the two firms to carry out non-destructive, high-energy X-ray inspections of Orbex’s large-scale 3D-printed rocket engines prior to flight.
Also in March, Orbex completed the installation of its new 40-tonne “launch platform” at Kinloss in Scotland. Although the platform is capable of supporting orbital launch operations, it will be used exclusively for the testing of rockets and procedures.
In early May, Orbex unveiled the first full-scale prototype of its Prime rocket at the company’s Kinloss test facility. The prototype has enabled the company to enter a period of integrated testing, allowing dress rehearsals of rocket launches and the development and optimisation of launch procedures.
UK-based Skyrora was founded in 2017 and is currently developing its two-stage suborbital Skylark L and orbital Skyrora XL launch vehicles. The three-stage Skyrora XL is designed to be capable of carrying up to 315 kg payloads to orbit. The vehicle includes a reignitable upper stage that can double as an orbital transfer vehicle.
Skyrora is currently negotiating with the Icelandic government to launch the long-delayed maiden flight of its suborbital Skylark L launch vehicle. In the second quarter of this year, the company began a public campaign urging the country’s government to accelerate the process. 
In March, Skyrora opened its 11,000-square-metre testing centre in Midlothian, Scotland. The facility was quickly put to use, with the company conducting a series of qualification tests of its 70 kN engines in line with EAS’s Boost! Programme later that month. 
In June, Skyrora welcomed former SpaceX VP Lee Rosen as the company’s new COO. Lee will bring a great deal of operational experience to the company, having been involved in over 200 launch campaigns. I conducted an interview with Lee, during which we discussed his career, why he chose Skyrora, and more - it’s worth a listen if you’re curious about Skyrora.
The most recent announcement from Skyrora came on 1 July, when the company gave the public its first look at its Space Tug.
Isar Aerospace
Germany’s Isar Aerospace was founded in 2018 and is developing its two-stage Spectrum launch vehicle, which is designed to be capable of carrying 1,000 kg payloads to low Earth orbit.
Isar got the year off to a good start, winning the European Commission’s €10 million EIC Horizon Prize for Low-Cost Space Launch in January. Isar beat out fellow German launch startup Rocket Factory Augsburg and Spanish company PLD Space to win the prize.
In April, Isar co-founder and CEO Daniel Metzler was recognized by Business Insider as one of the most influential global entrepreneurs in space. The list included Peter Beck of Rocket Lab, Time Ellis of Relativity Space, Karina Drees of Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Will Marshall of Planet Labs.
Isar signed a contract with Exotrail in early June to access the company’s space mission simulation software, ExoOPS™. Isar plans to utilise the software to enhance its capabilities in the planning and analysis of satellite constellations. 
In mid-June, the German space agency DLR opened up the application process for the second opportunity for institutional payloads to be launched aboard a Spectrum flight as part of the agency’s Microlauncher Competition. Isar was announced as the winner of the first round of the competition in November 2021.
Also in June, Isar signed a firm launch contract with an Italian space logistics company, D-Orbit to carry one of the company’s Ion space tugs to orbit no earlier than 2023. The contract was the fifth commercial launch contract that the launch startup has secured in the last 18 months.
Rocket Factory Augsburg
Rocket Factory Augsburg was founded in 2018 and is developing its three-stage RFA One launch vehicle. The RFA One is capable of deploying up to 1,350 kg payloads to low Earth orbit. The vehicle includes a reignitable upper stage that can double as an orbital transfer vehicle.
In early Feb, RFA signed a launch facility partnership with Southern Launch. The partnership will allow the company to launch its RFA One vehicle from Southern Launch’s Whalers Way Orbital Launch Complex in South Australia. The launch facility provides direct ascent access into sun-synchronous and polar orbits.
In March, RFA announced that it would call its engine Helix following the conclusion of its highly successful “Name Our Engine” social media campaign. The campaign was launched in February and garnered 3,810 submissions.
RFA revealed a look at the first flight-ready Helix engine in early April. Test versions of the engine were fired for the first time in July last year.
Also in April, RFA were announced as the winners of the second and final round of the DLR Microlauncher Competition. The launch startup was awarded €11 million and the right to launch two 150 kg institutional payloads aboard the company’s RFA One vehicle.
In June, DLR announced that applications had opened for institutional payloads to fly aboard a pair of RFA One flights free of charge as part of the agency’s Microlauncher Competition.
On a lighter note, RFA also announced in June that it had released an official mod for Kerbal Space Program that allows players to build and launch an RFA One rocket. The mod also included a unique mission scenario.
More to come
The above is an initial selection of an upcoming report I intend to publish in late July. The report will include a six-month highlight reel for every European launch startup, much like those listed above with some additional information. It will also include a look at the progress of European commercial launch facilities. If you’re interested in advertising in the report, please send an email to
A rocket ship sets sail -  ArianeGroup’s Canopée Ariane 6 transport ship was launched at the Partner Stoczina shipyard in Szczecin, Poland. The contract to build the 121-metre cargo ship was won by Dutch Neptune Maritime Projects in January 2021. The ship will feature four 30-metre-high sails called “Oceanwings” that will reportedly save around 35% on fuel consumption.
Vega C gets one step closer to the launchpad - Avio CEO Giulio Ranzo revealed on Linked in, that the upper stage propellant loading for the first Vega C flight had been completed successfully. The company has also completed a mission simulation from Avio’s control room, and the fairing halves were successfully closed around the payload. The next step on the way to the July 7 launch date is to integrate the payload fairing with the rest of the rocket.
Another space industry service you might not have heard of - French startup Leanspace has closed a €6m seed round to continue the development of its cloud platform for space missions. The round was led by Karista and 42CAP and included contributions from Deraphim Space, the International Space University, and others. It also included “complementary non-dilutive financing” from BiFrance. The new funding will be used to scale up the company’s cloud services platform and build integrations with strategic partners.
Is this Vega’s final form? - Avio secured €340 million in funding for a pair of projects aimed at enabling the Italian rocket maker to compete beyond the 2030s. The first project will see Avio develop a small two-stage demonstration rocket powered by a new methalox engine that will fly by 2026. This currently unnamed demonstrator will have about one-tenth of Vega E’s payload capacity. The second project will see the company develop another methalox engine that CEO Giulio Ranzo says will be around six times more powerful. Avio aims to qualify this engine by 2026.
An Italian to give a Canadian a ride - Italian space logistics company D-Orbit will carry two satellites for Canadian telecommunications provider Kepler Communications aboard its Ion space tug. The Kepler-20 and Kepler-21 satellites will be carried to sun-synchronous orbits aboard the tug in the first quarter of 2023. The companies declined to disclose what rocket the mission would be launched aboard.
Venture orbital is dead, long live Latitude - French launch startup Venture Orbital closed a €10 million Series A. The round was led by Crédit Mutuel Innovation and Expansion with participation from BPI, Comat, Nicomatic, and ADF. The funding will be utilised to accelerate the development of the company’s Navier rocket engine. In addition to the funding, the company announced that it would be rebranding itself to Latitude.
ESA shares its aircraft safety tech - ESA signed an agreement with the Agency for Air Navigation Safety in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA) to deploy a system that allows satellite navigation signals to safely guide aircraft down for landing across Africa and the Indian Ocean. The system’s initial operational capabilities are expected to come online in 2025.
Are you ready for the conspiracy theories - ESA, OneWeb UK, and SatixFy UK successfully demonstrated a “high-speed, low-latency full 5G end-to-end” link between OneWeb’ low Earth orbit constellation and the 5G/6G Hub at ESA’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications in the UK.
Look at the cute little HummingSat - Swiss space technology company SWISSto12 revealed the name and logo of its new micro-geostationary satellite product line. The HummingSat satellite measures just one cubic metre, about one-tenth the size of traditional geostationary satellites. Its small size means that it can be launched aboard a rideshare mission, reducing launch costs. The first HummingSat is slated to be launched in 2025. The development of the HummingSat is being supported by ESA.
There’s so much room for activities - German spaceplane startup POLARIS Raumflugzeuge has completed the move into the company’s new site in Bremen. According to the company, the new facility offers 400 square metres of office space and a 550-square-metre workshop.
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Andrew Parsonson

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