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Europe's 1st commercial staged rocket passes hot-fire milestone

Images from Rocket Factory Augsburg's first hot fire test of its Helix engine, Europe's first commercial staged combustion engine.
Images from Rocket Factory Augsburg's first hot fire test of its Helix engine, Europe's first commercial staged combustion engine. (Image credit: Rocket Factory Augsburg via Twitter)

German launch services startup Rocket Factory Augsburg has taken a new step in the development of an orbital launcher with the hot fire test of its Helix engine.

Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) carried out its first three hot fire tests of its staged combustion Helix rocket engine with a total duration of 74 seconds during a test campaign in Kiruna, northern Sweden.

The tests mark important progress towards an eventual launch of the RFA One rocket. "We are truly excited that our design has proven so reliable and performant," Stefan Brieschenk, the company's Chief Operating Officer, said in a press release (opens in new tab). "We have just made a huge leap towards our first launch by completing this first qualification campaign of Helix."

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RFA next plans to perform an integrated system test at the end of the year with a Helix and a flight-qualified upper stage tank, firing the engine for the full duration of the upper stage flight. 

"Building on this, we plan to launch in mid-to-late 2023," an RFA spokesperson told Space.com.

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The RFA One is designed to launch 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms) to a similar orbit as the International Space Station, which orbits at an altitude of about 250 miles (400 kilometers), or 1,000 pounds (450 kg) to geosynchronous transfer orbit, which reaches altitudes as high as 26,000 miles (42,000 km).

RFA is one of a number of emerging European commercial launch companies. Competitors include Isar Aerospace, also of Germany, Orbex and Skyrora based in the United Kingdom, and PLD Space in Spain.

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Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).