German Launch Providers Isar Aerospace and RFA Eye Maiden Launches in 2023

Rocket Factory Augsburg booth at Small Satellite 2022 conference. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I had the occasion to visit the booths of two German startups, Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory Augsburg, that are eyeing maiden flights of their small satellite launch vehicles next year.

Isar Aerospace

Munich-based Isar Aerospace expects to launch out of the Andoya Space Center in Norway by the middle of next year. The company’s two-stage Spectrum rocket is designed to place payloads weighing 1,000 kg (2,205 lb) into low Earth orbit (LEO) or 700 kg (1,543 lb) into sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

Isar Aerospace and the German Space Agency at DLR previously announced the selection of the following institutions to provide payloads for the maiden flight:

  • Germany, DLR Responsive Space Competence Center (RSC³), Trauen
  • Germany, Technical University Berlin, Institute of Aerospace Engineering, Berlin
  • Germany, ZfT – Center for Telematics e.V,. Würzburg
  • Norway, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim
  • Slovenia, University of Maribor, Institute of Electronics and Telecommunications, Maribor.

On Tuesday, Munich-based DCUBED announced it would carry out an in-space demonstration of its uD3PP release actuator on Spectrum’s maiden flight. The system ensures that critical mechanisms on spacecraft are locked down during launch and properly deployed once in orbit,

In July, Isar Aerospace announced that it had been selected by the French space agency CNES to launch Spectrum from the Giuana Space Centre in French Guiana. The company will use the launch complex that had hosted launches of the retired Diamant booster.

Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA)

RFA is planning the maiden launch its RFA One rocket at the end of 2023. The two-stage booster will be capable of launching payloads to the following orbits:

  • 1,600 kg (3,527 lb) to International Space Station orbit
  • 1,350 kg (2976 lb) to 300 km (186 mile) polar orbit
  • 1,200 kg (2646 lb) to 700 km (435 mile) polar orbit
  • 650 kg (1,433 lb) to 2,000 km (1,243 mile) polar orbit
  • 450 kg (992 lb) to geostationary transfer orbit

The representative I spoke with at the company’s booth said engineers had completed tests on RFA One’s engines. The company is now moving toward integrated tests of the rocket’s two liquid stages.

Launches will cost 5 million euros (US $5.1 million). The representative said the company has launch orders worth 30 million euros (US $30.6 million).

RFA One will be reusable, but the representative did not say how. He did say the company will not use the kind of propulsive landing that SpaceX has perfected for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy first-stage boosters. He also indicated the method would be different from Rocket Lab’s plan to use a helicopter to recover Electron first stages that are descending under parachute.

The location of the first launch was also a bit uncertain. The representative indicated that the company plans to fly out of Andoya Space Center in Norway eventually. RFA is also eyeing launches out of the Scotland. The company has also been approved to launch from the Guiana Space Center.

A spinoff of OHB SE, the company won the second round of the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) microlauncher competition in April. The award was for 11 million euros (US $11.3 million). The company will carry 150 kg (331 lb) of institutional payloads on the first two RFA One flights as part of the award.