RFA Secures New Test Site for Helix Engines

RFA DLR agreement
Image: RFA

Rocket Factory Augsburg has struck an agreement with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) to test its Helix engines at the historic Institute of Space Propulsion in Lam­pold­shausen.

Who’s who in the zoo:

  • RFA, a German launch startup, is developing the RFA ONE, which is designed to carry payloads of up to 1,350 kg to LEO.
  • The DLR Institute of Space Propulsion in Lam­pold­shausen (est. 1959) has long served as the primary test center for multiple European propulsion systems.

RFA currently does all its engine testing at the Esrange Space Center in Sweden. Lam­pold­shausen is significantly closer to the company’s manufacturing facility in Augsburg. RFA will use both Esrange and Lam­pold­shausen to augment its capacity. All integrated stage tests will still be conducted at Esrange.

Before construction of the new test stand can commence, DLR must first finish building support infrastructure. DLR expects to complete that by mid-2023, while RFA is targeting the back half of the year to cut the ribbon on its new test stand. 

The road to the launchpad

RFA ONE render. Image: RFA

RFA unveiled the second stage for its maiden launcher just last week, and the stage has already arrived at Esrange for testing. The startup expects to begin a hot fire campaign before the year is out. If all goes well, RFA will fly the stage on its first launch attempt after maintenance and refurbishing. 

Takes two to tango…Work on the first stage is currently underway, and RFA is targeting mid-2023 for its first stage hot fire. 

The company has already completed its dedicated launchpad at Norway’s Andøya Space. The surrounding infrastructure that will be needed to launch an RFA ONE still needs to be completed.

RFA is currently targeting Q4 2023 for RFA ONE’s maiden flight. If you’re an adherent of Berger’s Law (a term coined by Ars Technica’s Eric Berger), this likely means that it will slip into the first quarter of 2024 at the earliest. Speaking to European Spaceflight, RFA CCO Jörn Spurmann appeared to acknowledge this, stating “there’s nothing more fluid than a launch date with a microlauncher company or with any launch company.”

The road to the launchpad is, however, not completely clear. RFA is currently not fully funded up to a maiden flight of RFA ONE. According to a leaked funding memo, the startup is currently trying to raise €70M– €75M to get it through two RFA ONE test flights.

Take it to the max

Rumors that RFA is working on a larger vehicle had been circulating for several months, with the name RFA ONE MAX attached to the project. Early last week, US mission enabler Precious Payload published details about an RFA ONE MAX maiden flight that was scheduled to occur in Q4 of 2025. The information was quickly deleted along with all RFA ONE information.

Speaking to European Spaceflight, RFA CCO Jörn Spurmann explained the incident, saying “we have different proposals and different things we’re discussing with different partners; some talk too much, some don’t.” It definitely sounds like someone got a stern talking to.

However, before RFA takes it to the max, they’ll need to take that first small step to space.

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