German Rocket Startup to Launch Monthly from UK’s Northernmost Spaceport

engineering careers  German Rocket Startup to Launch Monthly from UK’s Northernmost Spaceport

A German rocket startup is gearing up for the summer when it will attempt the first-ever satellite launch into orbit from the UK.

Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) is one of several firms with eyes on the night sky that plan to use the recently opened SaxaVord spaceport on Unst, the northernmost island of Scotland’s remote Shetland archipelago.

With the capability to handle up to 30 rocket launches per year, the SaxaVord facility offers Germany’s RFA exclusive use of a dedicated launchpad for its 30-meter tall, 3-stage RFA One vehicle. Carrying a payload capacity of up to 1,300kg, the rocket will attempt to insert satellites into a synchronous orbit around Earth during its maiden launch.

“We plan to be on pad in the summer and start the campaign,” explained Jorn Spurmann, RFA’s Chief Commercial Officer.

After assembling and testing the rocket’s components in Germany, they will be shipped north to Unst in around a dozen containers. Final integration of the vehicle’s three stages, along with encapsulation of the satellite payloads within the rocket nosecone, will occur directly at the SaxaVord site ahead of a crucial pre-launch “hot test” firing of the rocket’s nine lower stage HELIX engines.

SaxaVord MAXAR Launch Site Satellite Image small scaled 1

The Shetland Islands community, with a population of around 23,000, has welcomed the economic opportunities the SaxaVord spaceport will create. Locals on Unst, home to only 600 residents, have supported the scheme.

In the long term, RFA intends to reuse the rocket’s first stage to generate cost savings similar to the approach California’s SpaceX used on its Falcon series of launch vehicles. Although not planned for the first few flights, the envisioned return process would use parachutes to splash the booster stage down into the sea downrange from the launch site.

Within 3 years, RFA targets a launch tempo of 1 per month, or 12 flights annually, to meet expected growth in the small satellite launch market. However, the firm is flexible and will scale up activity further if customer demand warrants it.

The stakes are high on the upcoming debut blastoff, which could occur as early as this June if engineering tests proceed nominally. However, even in the event of failure, RFA has a second flight-ready rocket that could be prepped for a swift reattempt.


  • German startup Rocket Factory Augsburg plans to launch satellites monthly from the new SaxaVord spaceport in the UK’s Shetland Islands.
  • Their 3-stage, 30m tall RFA One rocket will attempt its first-ever orbital launch from the UK this summer.
  • Rockets shipped to the spaceport in sections and then assembled on-site before launch.
  • Companies aiming to reuse rocket boosters to reduce costs, like SpaceX
  • Locals welcome the spaceport as an economic opportunity despite landscape changes.
  • The first launch was seen as an “Olympic gold medal” moment after years of development.