German startup Rocket Factory Augsburg has secured £3.5mn (€4mn) in funding from the UK Space Agency as it prepares for its maiden flight next year.
The funding was awarded under the European Space Agency’s Boost! Programme, which aims to help companies develop new launch technologies and bring them to the market.
Rocket Factory UK, a subsidiary of the German company, will use the funding to develop and operate the infrastructure needed for the satellite launch and to test equipment. The company plans to launch its first rocket in Q2 2024 from SaxaVord Spaceport in Scotland’s Shetland Islands — the first-ever spaceport in Western Europe.
The funding announcement came as UK science minister George Freeman visited SaxaVord Spaceport to see progress at the site and meet key members of the project team.
“This £3.5mn investment will enable RFA UK to develop the technologies necessary to launch from SaxaVord Spaceport in Scotland, creating dozens of jobs locally and growing the Scottish cluster as a key part of the UK space sector,” said Freeman.
The UK Space Agency also previously awarded Lockheed Martin £23.4mn (€27mn) in two separate grants to support its launch operations at SaxaVord.
Although SaxaVord has already constructed most of the spaceport, it still needs UK Civil Aviation Authority approval to conduct orbital missions. Once approved, RFA will have exclusive access to the spaceport’s Launch Pad Fredo for orbital launches.
Founded in 2018, RFA is developing a three-stage launcher called RFA One with a payload capacity of 1,300 kilograms to low Earth orbit. The company plans to undercut the competition by offering payloads of up to 1,300 kg at a base cost of $3,000 to $4,000 per kg. By 2030, it hopes to launch approximately 50 times per year to dedicated orbits for full satellite constellations.
RFA has spent a little over €40mn so far in its quest to become Europe’s first small launch provider. A small-lift launch vehicle is a rocket orbital launch vehicle that is capable of lifting 2,000 kg or less.
Other companies operating in this arena include UK-based Skyrora, which also aims to launch its first rocket from SaxaVord at the end of this year, and PLD Space, a Spanish startup which aims to launch Europe’s first reusable rocket from a site in South Spain.