BREMEN, Germany — Rocket Factory Augsburg has signed a deal allowing it to build and operate its own engine test stand at German Aerospace Center (DLR) premises. 

RFA announced the deal at the Space Tech Expo Europe in Bremen, Germany, Nov. 16, which will allow RFA to use the P2.4 test site in Lampoldshausen. DLR provides the basic infrastructure while RFA brings its own test stand and supporting infrastructure. 

Test stands in Lampoldshausen have so far only been used by DLR, the European Space Agency and ArianeGroup.

The new test stand will add to RFA engine testing capacity already established in Esrange in northern Sweden, where the company has been conducting testing on the Helix engine for the RFA One launcher. Testing will continue in Sweden but the new development simplifies logistics and bureaucracy related to import and export rules.

The three-stage RFA One launcher uses a cluster of 9 kerosene-liquid oxygen staged combustion Helix engines on the first stage and is designed to carry up to 1,300 kilograms into a 300-kilometer polar orbit.

“Less than a week before the ESA Ministerial Council, this collaboration is a clear RFA location commitment to Germany and sends a strong signal to policy makers and the industry,” Jörn Spurmann, chief commercial officer at Rocket Factory Augsburg, said in a statement.

RFA fired its Helix engine for the first time for a total duration of 74 seconds during the middle of the year, with the same Helix engine ignited and shut down three times without the need to  replace any components, according to the firm, with an integrated system test of a complete upper stage tank with a Helix engine due to follow.

Spurmann told SpaceNews that the company was working towards a first orbital test flight at the end of 2023.

“So we have right now a second stage on the tests and in Sweden and we want to start in this campaign before the end of year. Then in the first half of next year, we’re going to work on the core stage. And given that these are positive, the first flight by the end of next year is what we’re planning. 

The first launch of the RFA One rocket will take place from the SaxaVord spaceport in the Shetland Islands in the United Kingdom. If successful, the firm will then begin working through launches already secured.

“I think it’s looking really well,” Spurmann said regarding booking launches. “The manifest for 2024 is filling up with a dozen customers.”

Munich-based Isar Aerospace and UK-based Skyrora and Orbex are also competing with RFA to become the European launch startup to reach orbit and secure clients.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...