Tag Archives: Firefly

A report from Smallsat 2016

The competition heats up: Doug Messier has posted a nice summary of the most important presentations so far at Smallsat 2016 in Utah.

These are the rockets designed to launch cubesats or smaller. It appears that at least two companies, Firefly and Vector Space Systems, are getting close to their first flights. Both already have customers. The progress of a third company, Virgin Galactic, sounds as good, but they have talked big too many times in the past to trust them at this point. In fact, regardless of what any of these companies say, it will be actual flights that puts them on the map.

What is interesting is the number of these companies. There are a lot of them, which suggests strongly that some are going to succeed.

Smallsat rocket launchers get NASA contracts

The competition heats up: NASA this week awarded contracts ranging from $4.7 to $6.9 million to three different smallsat launch companies.

The companies are Firefly Space Systems, Rocket Lab USA, and Virgin Galactic. The second is the company that just won the contract to put a privately-built lunar rover on the moon (part of the Google Lunar X-Prize).

In the past, cubesats and other small satellites could only afford to be secondary payloads on much larger rockets. Thus, they were at the mercy of the needs of the primary payload, often resulting in significant unplanned delays before launch. This in turn acted to discourage the development of smallsats. Now, with these private launch companies designed to service them exclusively the smallsat industry should start to boom.

Note also the low cost of these contracts. The small size of cubesats and the launchers designed for them means everything about them costs much less. Putting an unmanned probe into space is thus much more affordable.

A new company enters the smallsat business

The competition heats up: Firefly Space Systems, a new company aimed at the small satellite market, successfully test fired its first rocket engine today.

This company is aiming for the same market that Virgin Galactic is going for with its LauncherOne rocket. It will be interesting to see if either can make money selling launch services to these small satellites.

A new Falcon 1 to compete against SpaceX

The competition heats up: A rocket launch start-up created by former SpaceX engineers seeks to build their own Falcon 1 rocket for the small satellite market.

Their rocket, called Firefly, will use a number of new and old technological ideas. The highlighted words in this paragraph, however, stood out to me the most:

Just as Firefly is drawing on a lot of government research in its aerospike technology, the company is using a key element of the SpaceX Merlin engine—the pintle injector—in its new engine’s combustion chamber. Markusic, who jumped ship from NASA to SpaceX after the agency sent him to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands to observe the first flight of the Falcon 1, says he started working on the technology—also used on the Apollo program’s lunar-descent engine —at SpaceX and when he was developing a liquid-fuel alternative to the hybrid engine used on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. [emphasis mine]

It only took one trip to see SpaceX in operation for this NASA engineer to become a former NASA engineer.