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German space startup Rocket Factory Augsburg AG (RFA or Rocket Factory) announced a new contract with the American rideshare services provider Spaceflight, Inc earlier today at the International Astronautical Congress being held in France. Rocket Factory is one of the handfuls of firms that have cropped up to open up space access to the private industry, and the company is currently developing the RFA One - which is a small rocket designed primarily to lift small satellites into orbit. The deal with Spaceflight will help Rocket Factory secure customers for its rocket, which is a crucial aim for any company looking to get a new vehicle off the ground due to the large cash inflows required for research, development and production.
Rocket Factory Targets Mid 2024 Launch For Its RFA One Rocket With Spaceflight's Sherpa Module
Rocket Factory is one of the few space companies out there that is using a green propellant for its launch vehicle. The RFA One rocket is a three stage vehicle, that aims to put payloads in a variety of orbits such as polar orbits and geostationary transfer orbits. The final leg of the journey will be powered by a third stage which uses an undisclosed green biofuel.
Apart from the third stage, both the second and first stages of the rocket will use Rocket Factor's in-house Helix engines. These use liquid oxygen as their oxidizer and rocket propellant 1 (RP-1 or kerosene) as their fuel, similar to the Merlin engines used by SpaceX for its Falcon 9 rockets.
Rocket Factory's announcement with Spaceflight marks an important point for the company, as it indicates that the myriad of tests that the firm has carried out for the different components of its rocket has been successful and convinced the rideshare mission provider to select it as its launch company.
Spaceflight's Sherpa orbital transfer vehicle is a contraption that hosts other spacecraft to inject them to the desired orbits. One such module launched recently on SpaceX's Falcon 9, and it is currently en route to placing its payload at its destination of a 1,000 kilometer circular orbit.
In addition to Spaceflight, Rocket Factory has also signed contracts with the German government and a "dozen customers" for launches slated to start next year. The Spaceflight deal covers multiple RFA launches, slated to take place all over Europe including areas such as the United Kingdom and the French Guiana.
The company also signed a contract with the European Space Agency (ESA) for the latter's Boost! program which aims to stimulate the European aerospace industry to meet the continent's needs. Interest in the aerospace sector has grown as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Commercial Crew Program (CCP) with SpaceX has allowed NASA to have regular access to the International Space Station (ISS) at a low cost and through a private company that is also capable of reusing its rockets.
Rocket Factory's RFA One rocket's first stage is also reusable, and the latest test of its engine saw the engine run for 74 seconds. Crucially, this was the same engine that the company had also tested last year for eight seconds, which then indicates its comfort with reusing an engine and dealing with the countless components that have to be inspected and potentially replaced for a reusable engine. The Helix engine, like SpaceX's Raptor 2 engines for Starship, is also a staged-combustion engine, which lets it reuse exhaust gases for improved efficiency.