As Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA) works on its new launch vehicle One, the company has been busy with another product: Argo. Argo is a new transfer vehicle that must come as welcome news to the ESA and European companies within the space market.
With the retirement of the European ATV in 2014, Europe has gone without a dedicated transfer vehicle for nearly a decade. Argo will fill that gap and allow Europe to service the International Space Station (ISS), and other missions are possible further down the road. Current service to the ISS is accomplished with SpaceX Dragon (United States), Progress (Russia), Cygnus (United States), and soon the updated HTV-X (Japan). Europe does not have the ability at this moment to bring supplies to the station, and it seems RFA has taken the reins in bringing this capability back.
The reported payload of Argo will be around 3,400 kilograms to LEO, and Argo is fully reusable to bring that mass back to Earth, which, although too big for the company’s in-house rocket One, will be able to launch on other vehicles. Argo has been submitted for consideration to ESA’s Commercial Cargo Transportation Initiative (CCTI). RFA is not alone, with ArianeGroup likely to submit its own proposal, and The Exploration Company has its Nyx spacecraft under development. A demo mission must launch by 2028.
Although there are current transfer vehicles servicing the ISS, Europe wants this capability as well. Russia, who has long been a partner on the station and services the ISS with its Progress spacecraft, might be an unreliable service provider. Despite reports of Baikonur being impounded, it appears launches to the ISS with Soyuz and Progress continue. With the current war in Ukraine, space has likely been put on the back burner within the Russian hierarchy. With that being said, having a European transfer vehicle will be a bonus if Russian launches cease or diminish in number.
With future space stations on the horizon, such as the commercial Axiom Station and Starlab Space Station, transfer vehicles such as Argo might be utilized to some degree. As humankind moves more into space, the ability to supply these endeavors will only grow. Argo and other vehicles will have their place moving forward.