Firefly Alpha rocket launch dates, history and schedule

13th Jun 2022
Firefly Alpha rocket launch dates, history and schedule

Firefly Aerospace is a private aerospace company developing the small, low-cost Alpha and Beta Firefly launch vehicles to carry small satellites to LEO. The company was founded in 2014 by American rocket engineer Tom Markusic, who is committed to the idea of “New Space” ─ to making space launches more accessible to commercial customers.

An 8-year path to orbit

In eight years, the company has grown from a small startup to a prominent and promising player in the space market. This breakthrough was facilitated by a powerful symbiosis of science, technical skills and about $100 million in investments from the venture fund Noosphere Ventures Partners. Collaboration with Ukraine, which has rich experience in rocket science, also played a big role.

Thanks to the managing partner of Noosphere Ventures and the former head of the company, Max Polyakov, who has Ukrainian roots, in 2017, the Firefly R&D centre was opened in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. It attracted more than 50 of the best engineers, scientists and technicians from leading Ukrainian rocket and space enterprises, notably Yuzhniy Design Bureau and Yuzhmash engineering plant. It was in R&D Firefly Dnipro that the automation and combustion chamber units for the first Alpha launch were created. In the future, the company plans to establish a full cycle of rocket engine production, including engines for the Beta rocket, which is still under development.

In early 2022, Firefly carried out the first Alpha launch and is now preparing for a full-fledged entry into the market.

What is the Firefly launch vehicle and how is it different?

Up to 300 small satellites are annually delivered to different orbits, and these launches do not always require very powerful and expensive rockets. Tom Markusic’s idea was to provide a cost-effective option that would eliminate the dependence on infrequent heavy rocket launches. And he almost succeeded. A Firefly space launch costs a quarter of a Falcon or Ariane rocket launch. At the same time, unlike current micro-launchers, Virgin Orbit Launcher One and Rocket Lab Electron, Firefly will be able to deliver over 1100 kg of cargo to low Earth orbit (200 km) and over 740 kg to sun-synchronous orbit (500 km).

First rocket engine tests

first Firefly Alpha rocket engine test
Source

The company’s rapid development and tangible results secured Firefly Aerospace not only private customers but also US government contracts. In 2019, the US Air Force selected Firefly for its Launch program. In December 2020, NASA included the company in the Launch Services Program for launching ultra-small satellites and CubeSats into orbit, and in January 2021, in the Artemis Commercial Moon Delivery program. This means that the Alpha launch vehicle has been entrusted with the delivery of cargo for lunar missions.

Alpha rocket characteristics

Firefly rocket has a lot of advantages, but the most important one is the combination of characteristics and delivery cost. Here’s what Alpha’s main specs look like compared to its closest launcher competitors.

Launch Vehicle

Payload to LEO, kg

Approx. Launch Cost, million $

Height, m

Mass, tons

1-stage Engines

Propellant

Firefly Alpha

745-1170

15

29.5

54

Reaver 1

LOX / RP–1

Virgin Orbit Launcher One

300-500

12

21.3

30

Newtone Three

LOX / RP–1

Rocket lab Electron

150-300

5-7

18

12.5

Rutherford

LOX/RP-1

Arianespace Vega

300-2500

26-37

30

137

Avio

HTPB (solid)

First Alpha Launch

The first Firefly launch took place on September 3, 2021, from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Vandenberg payload included microsatellites for the DREAM educational mission. During the first two and a half minutes the flight went well, the rocket lifted off successfully and broke the sound barrier, but was then destroyed by the emergency flight termination system. The cause was a loss of orientation brought on by a malfunction in one of the four first-stage engines. A detailed investigation showed a faulty electrical connector and several “components that can be easily replaced.”

The company stated that, even though the launch ended in failure, it provided important data to avoid errors on future flights. However, the next Alpha launch date has shifted several times.

Full launch video

In the video below, you can see how the first Alpha launch went, from the moment the rocket left the ground to the controlled explosion.

Next Firefly Launch

The next Firefly aerospace launch date for Alpha was supposed to happen again in December 2021 – the first quarter of 2022, but this wasn’t in the cards. Recently, a new Alpha launch date was discussed: 17th July, 2022. So it looks like the company is keeping an eye on its obligations to customers, as four Firefly rocket launches should be held in 2022.

Firefly Alpha launch schedule

Date and time, UTC

Rocket,
configuration

Launch site

Payload

Orbit

Customer

Outcome

3 September 2021
01:59:00

Firefly Alpha / SUV

Vandenberg SLC-2W

BSS1, Firefly Capsule 1, PICOBUS (deploying six PocketQubes), Hiapo, Spinnaker3, and TIS Serenity

300 km circular, 137° inclination

Benchmark Space, Firefly, Libre Space Foundation, Fossa Systems, AMSAT-EA, Hawaii Science and Technology Museum, Purdue University, Teachers in Space, Inc., and others.

Failure

First test flight of the Firefly Alpha; carrying various payloads as part of their DREAM mission. Firefly’s experimental Space Utility Vehicle (SUV) third stage was also onboard this flight. Due to an engine failure flight termination system was activated. Vehicle lost.

17 July 2022

Firefly Alpha

Vandenberg SLC-2W

Educational payloads

LEO

TBA

Second orbital launch attempt, carrying more deployable educational payloads.

August 2022

Firefly Alpha

Vandenberg SLC-2W

TBA

SSO

NASA

NASA Venture Class Launch Services 2 (VCLS 2) Mission Two, officially known as VCLS Demo-2FB. The ELaNa 43 mission, consisting of 11 CubeSats, will launch on this flight.

September 2022

Firefly Alpha

Vandenberg SLC-2W

OTB-2 / MAIA

SSO

GA-EMS / JPL

Orbital Test Bed 2 (OTB-2) hosts the MAIA instrument for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

October 2022

Firefly Alpha

Vandenberg SLC-2W

Dedicated rideshare mission

LEO

Spaceflight, Inc.

Dedicated smallsat rideshare mission to low Earth orbit.

2022

Firefly Alpha

Vandenberg SLC-2W

Satlantis EO Constellation

LEO

Satlantis

Satlantis earth observation satellite constellation.

2023

Firefly Alpha

Vandenberg SLC-2W

EOS SAR 1

SSO

EOS Data Analytics

First EOS SAR radar constellation satellite.

Early 2024

Firefly Beta

Vandenberg SLC-2W

TBA

TBA

Maiden flight of the Firefly Beta

Follow the upcoming Firefly launches with us

The two-stage Firefly Alpha is designed to compete with such rockets as Virgin Orbit Launcher One, Arianespace Vega, and Rocket Lab Electron. In the near future, we will see if it succeeds.

In any case, the work continues, and the first failure did not stop an ambitious team. After all, even the legendary SpaceX Falcon was successfully launched only on the fourth attempt. Orbital Today will closely monitor Firefly’s progress and update you on it. Get ready ─ Firefly’s next launch is just around the corner. Follow our Firefly launch updates!

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