Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket ready for first launch

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COLORADO SPRINGS – Firefly Aerospace is set to make its first orbital launch attempt next week as the company balances a transition to operations with plans to develop new rockets and spacecraft.

Firefly announced on August 19 that it had set a date of September 2 for the first launch of its Alpha rocket from Vandenberg Space Force base in California. The announcement came a day after the small pitcher successfully completed a 15-second static firing test on the Vandenberg platform.

In an interview at the 36th Space Symposium here on August 24, Tom Markusic, Managing Director of Firefly, said the only step left before the planned launch was to finalize the documents. “The static fire test was perfect,” he said. “If we had let the rocket go, it would have flown. All the data is superb.

The company has extensively tested this rocket, including nearly 20 hot fire tests. “This vehicle has definitely been put to the test,” he said. “We are ready to go. “

The rocket could have been ready sooner without the delayed delivery of a necessary component to its flight termination system. Markusic declined to identify the specific component or its supplier, but said it was one of the few major components that the company had not developed in-house.

“The supplier was unable to get the components qualified and delivered on time,” he said. “We are a year behind on this flight termination system. “

Alpha’s inaugural launch will carry a payload called the Research and Education Acceleration Mission (DREAM), a Firefly initiative to provide a free launch for academic and other private payloads. The launch will also test components of an orbital transfer vehicle the company is developing, called the Space Utility Vehicle.

If the first launch is successful, Markusic said a second Alpha will be ready to launch as early as December with a commercial payload. However, he acknowledged that the first launch of a new vehicle carries a higher risk of failure.

“It is not uncommon to have an anomaly on the first flight and then, depending on the severity of the anomaly, it can take several weeks to several months” to correct the problem, he said. “Alpha is a fairly straightforward rocket design, so whatever problem we may have, we believe it’s something that can be fixed relatively quickly.”

A successful launch would create a different set of challenges as Firefly moves from development to operations. “The transition from R&D to production is going to be very difficult,” said Markusic.

Firefly announced on August 17 that it has hired a new COO, Lauren Lyons, who previously worked at SpaceX and Blue Origin. “It will focus on building the infrastructure and the ability to move to full-scale production while maintaining and expanding this core hardware development capability for new vehicles,” he said. declared. “You have to have both. “

Markusic said he will focus more on developing new vehicles, including a mid-class launcher called Beta as well as the Space Utility Vehicle and the Blue Ghost lunar lander. He said Firefly recently completed a concept design for Beta, which the company plans to develop over the next three years.

Firefly is also entering the components business, starting by offering the engines it developed for Alpha to other customers. Markusic said Firefly has a contract to deliver around 50 engines to an unidentified company developing its own launcher.

It’s a break from the approach most companies have taken to be as vertically integrated as possible. “If you really want to achieve economies of scale, the more you can earn, the better,” he said.

This component business will extend to other items, such as composite overpack pressure vessels. “We have bigger aspirations to have a large-scale presence in e-commerce,” he said. “The dream is to point and click and have a rocket engine the next day.”


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