German firm could beat Richard Branson in race to launch satellites from Britain
A German rocket company could beat Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit in the race to launch satellites from British soil, after teaming up with Shetland’s spaceport.
On Wednesday, Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) announced a partnership with SaxaVord Spaceport for exclusive rights to its Fredo launch pad, with the first lift-off scheduled before the end of the year.
Virgin Orbit had hoped to be the first to make a successful satellite launch from Britain but struggled to get its LauncherOne rocket into the correct orbit on Monday evening.
The company is expected to make another attempt at Spaceport Cornwall but does not yet have a date.
Unlike Virgin’s launch system, which uses a repurposed Boeing 747 to carry the rocket to 35,000 ft before it is released for its journey into space, RFA uses a traditional vertical system like Nasa and SpaceX.
Shetland’s spaceport, which is located at Lamba Ness in Unst, is being prepared for rehearsals to start in July, which involves test-fighting small rockets to an altitude of around two miles.
RFA said it also plans to begin testing the core stages of its rockets at the site in the summer.
Jorn Spurmann, Chief Commercial Officer at RFA, said: “We are super excited to launch our first flight from SaxaVord. We are proud to be part of this historic event for the UK.”
It was thought that Lockheed Martin could be the first company to launch from Scotland, but it has pushed back its UK Pathfinder mission.
British micro launch startup Orbex is also in the running to be the first flight out of Scotland.
Matt Archer, Director of Commercial Spaceflight at the UK Space Agency, said: “This new partnership between SaxaVord and Rocket Factory Augsburg AG is fantastic news and another exciting step towards vertical launches from Scotland.
“By attracting global partners and building a vibrant home-grown launch industry, we are making the UK the leading country in Europe to offer commercial launch services, benefitting our economy and creating jobs across the whole country.”