Firefly: Software caused failure of upper stage in December

According to the rocket startup Firefly, a software issue prevented the engine on the upper stage of its Alpha rocket from firing its final burn, leaving a Lockheed Martin satellite in the wrong orbit.

In a Feb. 20 statement, Firefly said an error with the guidance, navigation and control (GNC) software for the upper stage of the Alpha on the company’s “Fly the Lightning” mission Dec. 22 kept the upper stage from firing as planned to circularize its orbit. That left the upper stage and its payload, a Lockheed Martin technology demonstration satellite, in an orbit with a low perigee.

The investigation, which included the company’s own mishap team as well as an independent review, found that the error in the GNC software algorithm “prevented the system from sending the necessary pulse commands to the Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters ahead of the stage two engine relight.” Firefly didn’t elaborate on the issue, but the RCS thrusters likely would have been used to ensure the stage was in the proper orientation and to settle its tanks so propellant would flow from them into the engine.

From this description it appears the attitude thrusters (RCS) had not worked correctly, and this made it impossible for the main engine to fire, either because the computer sensed it was in the wrong orientation, or its fuel could not flow properly to the engine.

The company says it has made corrections, and still expects to launch four times this year.

Firefly successfully launches for the second time in 2023

Alpha seven seconds after liftoff
Alpha seven seconds after liftoff

UPDATE #2: According to a Firefly tweet on X, the second stage failed to fire its second burn. The satellite however was deployed, communications established, and mission operations started. Though its orbit will decay prematurely, it appears the customer, the Space Force, will achieve most of its mission objectives. This should be considered a successful launch, albeit not one that Firefly will want to repeat in this manner.

UPDATE: It appears the upper stage might have had a problem in its final engine burn intended to circularize the orbit for deployment. Either the burn failed to occur, or did not fire correctly. See this tweet. (Hat tip Jay.) I have found other reports that indicate the same question.

The question now is whether this is considered a successful launch. One of its main tasks was to demonstrate fast assembly and prelaunch procedures, for the Space Force. This was accomplished. If the satellite cannot function however is isn’t a full success. I will wait for more information before deciding whether to remove it from the launch stats.

Original post:
Firefly today successfully completed its second launch in 2023, its third launch overall, its Alpha rocket lifting off from its launchpad at Vandenberg in California.

With this launch Firefly also met its launch prediction for 2023, two launches. The mission was its second for the Space Force this year, both designed to test quick launch procedures. As of posting the payload has not been deployed.

The leaders in the 2023 launch race remain the same:

92 SpaceX
61 China
18 Russia
8 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise now leads China in successful launches 106 to 61, and the entire world combined 106 to 97. SpaceX still trails the rest of the world (excluding other American companies) 92 to 97.

Firefly schedules second launch in 2023

Firefly has now scheduled the second launch of its Alpha rocket in 2023, with a launch window of about 20 minutes on the morning of Decmeber 20, 2023.

The payload is a smallsat from Lockheed Martin testing new antenna technology, but the launch is for the Space Force. Like the previous September 15, 2023 launch, it is designed to test the ability of Firefly to get a payload into orbit quickly, from assembly to launch.

Firefly completes second orbital launch

The launch startup Firefly tonight successfully completed its second orbital launch, and the first that reached its intended orbit, its Alpha rocket lifting off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and placing a Space Force payload on a mission to prove the satellite could be shipped to the launchpad, stacked on the rocket, and launched within sixty hours.

As this was Firefly’s first launch in 2023, the company does not enter the leader board for the 2023 launch race:

64 SpaceX
42 China
12 Russia
7 Rocket Lab
7 India

American private enterprise now leads China in successful launches 75 to 42, and the entire world combined 75 to 67. SpaceX by itself still trails the rest of the world combined (excluding American companies) 64 to 67.

Firefly wins three launch contract from L3Harris

Firefly today announced that the satellite company L3Harris has awarded it a three-launch contract as part of Space Force’s quick response satellite launch program.

Firefly will provide rapid launch capabilities for L3Harris to achieve direct access to low Earth orbit at a lower cost and support the responsive space needs of the U.S. government. The three missions will launch from Firefly’s SLC-2 launch site at the Vandenberg Space Force Base.

The missions are scheduled for 2026, which makes sense as Firefly has yet to make its Alpha rocket operational. It has attempted two launches, the first a failure and the second reaching orbit but at an altitude lower than planned. Its third attempt, also a rapid response launch for the Space Force, was officially declared ready for launch within 60 hours, anytime within the next six months when the Space Force demands it.

A side note: It has seemed to me that in 2023 the launch of new American rockets by launch startups has slowed considerably. Why this is occurring is likely the result of many factors. First, two companies (Astra and Relativity) have abandoned their first iteration of their rocket, and appear unready to launch again for several years, if ever. Second, we may be seeing evidence of the heavier regulatory fist under the Biden administration, making it more difficult for new rockets to get launch license approval.

Third, it appears investor enthusiasm for this new industry has cooled, partly because of the first two reasons above as well as the poor stock trends of the new rocket companies that went public.

It is also possible the slowdown is simply the normal fluctuation one sees in any new industry with a relatively small number of players. This could simply be a pause as they gear up for a string of new launches next year.

Only time will answer this question. Stay tuned.

Firefly buys orbital tug company Spaceflight

Firefly Aerospace announced yesterday that it has purchased the orbital tug company Spaceflight, and will now offer its Sherpa tug as part of its launch services.

Spaceflight Inc. was known as a leader in arranging launches of small satellites on small launch vehicles or as secondary payloads on larger launch vehicles, deploying more than 460 payloads. Spaceflight had also developed its own series of orbital transfer vehicles called Sherpa, using a mix of chemical and electric propulsion systems.

Spaceflight has worked with a wide range of launch providers, although at one point it ran afoul of one of its largest partners, SpaceX. However, Firefly said that Spaceflight’s services will, going forward, be used only with Firefly’s vehicles.

Though Firefly will honor the contracts Spaceflight arranged for smallsats to be launched on other rockets, it appears it will be no longer be acting as a launch arranger. Instead, it will offer smallsats a package launch deal, including both its Alpha rocket and the tug. For this deal to pay off however Firefly has got to get Alpha operational. The two launches scheduled for this summer should do this, assuming they fly with no problems.

Firefly delays NASA launch to August

According to papers filed with the FCC, Firefly’s July launch attempt of its Alpha rocket, carrying a set of NASA cubesats, has now been delayed one month to August.

Meanwhile, a second launch by Firefly for the Space Force is presently tentatively scheduled for June, and the company says it is wrapping up preparations for that launch. That contract’s prime focus is to demonstrate to the military the ability to launch with only a 24-hour notice.

If so, then this new rocket company, which has only launched twice before, with the second launch barely reaching orbit, will be launching twice in only a matter of weeks, both times from its launchpad at Vandenberg.

Firefly wins Space Force launch contract

Capitalism in space: Shortly after Firefly completed the first successful orbital launch of its Alpha rocket, the U.S. Space Force awarded the company its first military launch contract.

The VICTUS NOX mission will demonstrate an end-to-end Tactically Responsive Space capability, including the launch segment, space segment, ground segment, and on-orbit operations. VICTUS NOX will perform a Space Domain Awareness (SDA) mission from Low-Earth Orbit (LEO).

The next Alpha mission, a demonstration launch of a climate smallsat for NASA, presently hopes to launch before the end of the year, though more likely early next year.

Firefly successfully completes first orbital launch of its Alpha rocket

Alpha 1:48 into flight

Capitalism in space: Firefly, a company that just two years ago had gone into bankruptcy, tonight successfully launched their new Alpha rocket into orbit on its second test launch. The screen capture to the right shows the rocket 1:48 minutes into flight, its first stage still firing.

A final 2nd stage engine burn has completed, and we now have confirmation of deployment of the payload satellites. My sources tell me that the second stage under-performed, putting the satellites into a 223x283km orbit, rather than the planned 300km orbit, which will shorten the lifespan of the smallsats. As this was a test launch, not an operational one, this issue does not to my mind make the launch a failure.They reached orbit and the satellites were successfully deployed.

Thus, Firefly now joins SpaceX, Rocket Lab, ULA, Virgin Orbit, and Northrop Grumman as an operational American commercial rocket companies. Astra had been operational, but it has stepped down as it builds a new rocket.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

43 SpaceX
41 China
12 Russia
7 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise now leads China 61 to 41 in the national rankings, and is tied with the entire world combined, 61 to 61.

Watching Firefly’s next attempt to launch tonight

Firefly will try again to complete the first successful launch of its Alpha rocket tonight from Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Last night they attempted twice to launch, the first aborting about 4 minutes before launch, the second aborting at T-0, with the first stage engine’s actually igniting and then shutting down.

I have embedded the live stream below. The launch window opens at 12:01 am (Pacific) and lasts two hours, giving them time for at least two launch attempts, should an abort occur on the first attempt.

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Firefly to try again to complete first launch of its Alpha rocket

UPDATE: After a first abort about T-minus 4 minutes at around midnight, the launch team quickly recycled for a new launch at 12:52 am. At T-0 the rocket then aborted at launch.

There is still more than an hour in the launch window, so assuming they can rapidly pin down the cause of the abort, another attempt is possible, though unlikely. CONFIRMED: They will try again tomorrow, with the same launch window.

Though frustrating, these repeated launch attempts are actually wonderful real time training for Firefly’s launch team. The rocket is still in good condition, and they get to practice analyzing a situation under pressure and acting quickly to move forward.

Capitalism in space: Firefly will once again attempt to complete the first successful launch of its Alpha rocket tonight, with the launch scheduled for 12:01 am (Pacific) from Vandenberg Space Force Base. The launch window lasts two hours, so if they have an abort for a minor fixable reason there is a good chance they will still be able to cycle around and try again.

I have embedded below the live feed from Everyday Astronaut, which begins at around 10 pm (Pacific), two hours before the launch.

This will be their second attempt, with the first failing one year ago when one engine in the first stage shut down prematurely due to a loose connection. They attempted to launch this second rocket for the first time earlier this month, but had to scrub due to weather.

The rocket carries five small satellites, including one, Serenity, that was built by BtB reader (and supporter) Joe Latrell, builder of cubesats in a shop behind his garage.
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Firefly scrubs launch of Alpha rocket

UPDATE: September 12th launch scrubbed due to weather. No word on when the next launch attempt will be scheduled.

Original post about September 11th scrub:
After making two attempts, engineers at Firefly yesterday finally scrubbed the launch of their Alpha rocket, rescheduling the next attempt for today with a four hour launch window opening at 3 pm (Pacific).

Firefly has yet to make orbit. Their first launch attempt last year of Alpha failed when one first stage engine shut down prematurely due to a loose connection.

If you wish to watch the launch, I will embed the live stream below, once it goes live later today.

UPDATE: I have embedded the live stream below, with it beginning at 1:30 pm (Pacific).
» Read more

Firefly completes a dress rehearsal countdown of Alpha rocket; schedules launch

Capitalism in space: Having successfully completed both a full dress rehearsal countdown and static fire test of its fully stacked Alpha rocket, Firefly Aerospace has now scheduled the rocket’s launch for September 11, 2022.

These details come from a tweet by the company, so details are very limited. Nonetheless, this will be the company’s second attempt to complete an orbital launch. The first attempt, in September 2021, failed when one of its first stage engines shut down prematurely.

The company had hoped to attempt this second launch ten months ago, but was forced to delay it when the federal government demanded its chief investor, Ukrainian billionaire Max Polykov, first sell off his share in the company.

Hat tip to BtB’s stringer Jay.

Firefly founder stepping down as CEO

Capitalism in space: Tom Markusic, the founder of the smallsat rocket startup Firefly, is now stepping down as CEO, apparently forced out by the company’s new investors.

The company said that Markusic would shift from chief executive to a new role of chief technical advisor, effective June 16. He will remain a member of the company’s board and a “significant minority investor” in the company.

The move comes four months after AE Industrial Partners (AEI), a private equity firm, agreed to acquire a “significant stake” in Firefly from Noosphere Venture Partners, which sold its interest in Firefly at the request of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Noopshere is a fund run by Ukrainian-born investor Max Polyakov. In March, AEI said it was leading Firefly’s $75 million Series B round.

The statement suggested that Firefly’s new owners wanted new leadership for the company as it prepares a second launch of its Alpha rocket. That launch is expected no earlier than mid-July from Vandenberg Space Force Base, nearly a year after the first Alpha launch failed.

Essentially, the two people that created this company and then saved it have been forced outt, largely as a result of federal government demands. Polyakov was forced to sell to AEI by the government because he was not American, and it appears AEI then forced Markusic out.

Firefly raises $75 million, targets May for next launch attempt

Capitalism in space: In announcing that the company has raised $75 million more in private investment capital, Firefly officials also said that it is now targeted May for its next launch attempt of its Alpha rocket.

The launch was partly delayed because of the federal government’s insistence that a Ukrainian businessman, who had saved the company when it went into bankruptcy, divest his ownership. That has now happened, so Firefly has gotten approval to launch.

Firefly CEO Tom Markusic told CNBC that the company “worked methodically and cooperatively with the government” to both complete the divestment, as well as to add “security protocols” at the company.

With the move complete, Markusic said the company now has “full access to our facilities to go back and launch.” Firefly will next transport its second Alpha rocket from its headquarters near Austin, Texas, to California, and aims to launch as soon as it can.

“We think it’ll take us about eight weeks from here to launch — so in May is our target,” Markusic told CNBC.

The company is also aiming to complete its second test launch two months after the first, assuming all goes well.

Firefly forced to postpone next launch because of security issues

Capitalism in space: Firefly has been forced to postpone its next launch of its Alpha rocket, tentative scheduled for late January, because the federal government wants the Ukranian investor — who essentially saved the company when it went bankrupt — to completely divest himself of any ownership.

Noosphere Venture Partners, a fund run by Ukrainian-born investor Max Polyakov, said Dec. 29 that it will retain an investment banking firm to sell its interest in Firefly. That sale comes at the request of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the company said.

Polyakov invested $200 million to bring the company from the ashes when it was about to be liquidated in bankruptcy proceedings. He left its board of directors last year and reduced his share in the company last year in an effort to ease these same concerns. Apparently that wasn’t good enough, even though his ownership was not a problem when the company obtained a lease for a launch site at Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Though there might be a real security issue, we must not dismiss the possibility that this is a corrupt power play by people in Washington to use Polyakov’s foreign roots to push him out so that they can replace him, now that the company is healthy and moving forward after Polyakov saved it.

I know this is a cynical suspicion, but based on the behavior of our Washington bureaucracy and legislators in the past decade, it is far from an unreasonable one.

Firefly confirms launch failure due to the premature shutdown of one engine

Capitalism in space: Firefly this past weekend confirmed that its September 2nd launch failure was caused when one of the Alpha rocket’s first stage engines shut down almost immediately after liftoff.

On Sunday (Sept. 5), the company announced the proximate cause of the failure: One of Alpha’s four first-stage Reaver engines shut down unexpectedly about 15 seconds after liftoff. “The vehicle continued to climb and maintain control for a total of about 145 seconds, whereas nominal first-stage burn duration is about 165 seconds. However, due to missing the thrust of 1 of 4 engines, the climb rate was slow, and the vehicle was challenged to maintain control without the thrust vectoring of engine 2,” Alpha representatives wrote in a Twitter thread on Sunday.

“Alpha was able to compensate at subsonic speeds, but as it moved through transonic and into supersonic flight, where control is most challenging, the three-engine thrust vector control was insufficient and the vehicle tumbled out of control. The range terminated the flight using the explosive Flight Termination System (FTS). The rocket did not explode on its own,” they added.

The engine apparently did not fail or explode, it merely closed its main propellant valves so the engine was no longer being fed fuel. Though they obviously they need to find out why this happened, the nature of the failure is actually encouraging. It suggests a relatively easy fix (with a strong emphasis on the word “relatively”).

Debris from Firefly launch rains down near launch spectators

Alpha rocket exploding
Screen capture of explosion from Everyday Astronaut live stream.

When the range officer was forced to terminate the first launch of Firefly’s Alpha rocket on September 2, 2021, the subsequent explosion caused some of the debris to apparently fall near the spectators who had come out to see the launch.

Spectators who gathered across the Central Coast to watch the launch of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket — a privately designed, unmanned rocket built to carry satellites — instead saw it explode midair and debris rain down on nearby areas.

“I saw this thing floating down from the sky … then another piece, then another, and then hundreds of pieces varying in size were falling,” said Mike Hecker, a resident of Solvang who was out mountain biking in the Orcutt Hills with a large group of friends. “It was surreal to have rocket debris raining down on you,” he said.

According to all reports, it appears no one was injured or even came close to getting hurt.

We need to accept such things if we wish to do great things. The range officer destroyed the rocket to make sure it did not fly in one piece into anything on the ground, something that would have certainly caused great harm. Blowing it up prevented that, though it resulted in a small risk that smaller pieces might hit something.

Once, a story like this would have been intriguing but would have bothered no one. In today’s culture — which attempts to give everyone a “safe space” even from dissenting opinions — I fear that we shall find greater restrictions soon placed on launches.

Firefly first launch attempt fails after liftoff, shortly before stage separation

Alpha rocket exploding
Screen capture from Everyday Astronaut live stream.

Capitalism in space: Firefly’s first attempt to launch its Alpha rocket to orbit failed at T+2:30 minutes, shortly after it went supersonic and just before first stage engine cut-off and stage separation.

The screen capture to the right shows that explosion.

Lift-off procedures went very well, though the rocket itself appeared to reach supersonic speeds later than their timeline predicted, suggesting it was underpowered.

In fact, the whole operation reminded me of SpaceX’s early attempts to launch its Falcon-1 rocket. Just as happened in one of those early SpaceX launches, there was a launch abort at liftoff, the launch team quickly figured out what happened, recycled the rocket, and successfully lifted off an hour later. Kudos to that team!

The failure is unfortunate, but to repeat the cliche, this is rocket science. They will try again.

Firefly set for first orbital launch today

Capitalism in space: If all goes right, Firefly Aerospace will attempt its first orbital launch today from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, using its Alpha rocket to place a test payload of science experiments in space.

The launch window is from 6 pm to 10 pm Pacific.

If you wish to watch, I have embedded the live stream below. That stream however have been very poor. The stream is working better here.

Note: They had a launch abort right at launch, and appear to be recycling to try again.

Two new smallsat rockets now set for launch

Capitalism in space: The launch dates of two different new smallsat rockets is now confirmed.

First, Astra has obtained from the FAA a launch operator license that will allow it to launch rockets from now until March 2026. This license now allows the company to proceed with its August 27th first orbital launch of its Rocket-3 rocket. If successful, Astra hopes to move to monthly launches before the end of the year.

Second, Firefly has announced that it will attempt its own first orbital launch of its Alpha rocket on September 2nd. The company had been promising a launch before the end of the year, but until now had not set a date. The successful completion of a static fire test of the rocket cleared the way.

Three other smallsat rocket companies, Relativity, ABL, and Aevum, have also said they are targeting this year for their first orbital launches, but none has set any dates yet.

If successful, these companies will join Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit in providing launch capabilities for tiny satellites like cubesats and nanosats.

Firefly hires noted SpaceX engineer

Capitalism in space: Firefly Aerospace announced earlier this week that it has hired as it chief operating officer Lauren Lyons, a former SpaceX engineer familiar to many for her regular appearances as a announcer on SpaceX’s launch telecasts.

The company said that Lyons will focus on “transitioning Firefly from an R&D environment to a production environment” for its Alpha small launch vehicle, Space Utility Vehicle tug and Blue Ghost lunar lander. “Firefly is entering a pivotal and exciting phase of its growth,” Lyons said in the statement. “I’m thrilled to take on the challenge of leading the efforts in scaling the company’s infrastructure to support rapid growth, high execution rate, and deliver exceptional value and service to our customers.”

Translation: Using Lyons expertise from SpaceX, Firefly intends to operate much like SpaceX, upgrading its rockets and spacecraft continuously even as they operate commercially.

The launch date for the company’s first orbital attempt remains unannounced, though it says it will occur before the end of the year. It appears they are ready to go, except for one component of their flight termination system.

Firefly raises $75 million in investment capital

Capitalism in space: Firefly announced today that it has raised an $75 million in investment capital, with plans for a future fund-raising round aimed at bringing in another $300 million following the inaugural launch of its Alpha rocket.

The launch itself has been delayed several times, from December and March. It now appears they are targeting mid-June.

The company claims the delays were caused by two factors, the failure of a subcontractor to deliver on time the flight termination system, and the company taking longer than expected to prepare its launchpad at Vandenberg.

On a positive note, the company received its FCC launch license a few weeks ago, which had been held up due to security concerns over the company’s former main investor, Ukrainian billionaire Max Polykov. It appears that when Polykov sold off much of his stock so that he no longer controls the company, this eliminated the security concerns.

Firefly’s 1st Alpha rocket almost ready for launch

Capitalism in space: According to Firefly’s CEO Tom Markusic, the company’s first Alpha rocket almost ready for launch, and should fly this year, with one or two commercial flights to quickly follow.

Alpha is “ready to go,” but two other major issues delayed its launch, Markusic said. The first involved an avionics flight termination system piece from an external vendor (whom Markusic did not name), which had qualification issues that created delays.

Also, Markusic said, “we didn’t put enough focus on the launch site.” Upgrading the United Launch Alliance Delta II facilities Firefly inherited at Vandenberg proved to be “more challenging than anticipated,” he added, but “we’re literally weeks away from being done.”

Based on the interview at the article, it sounds like launch is less than a couple of months away, which is still a delay from their previously announced launch date in March, a date that has now passed.

Firefly gets another launch contract

Capitalism in space: Firefly Aerospace, which hopes to do the first launch of its new Alpha rocket sometime this spring, has won another launch contract, this time with General Atomics to put an Earth science satellite in orbit in ’22.

The other contracts:

In December, the company won a NASA Venture Class Launch Services launch contract valued at $9.8 million to launch two sets of cubesats into polar orbits. It won a $93.3 million contract from NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program Feb. 4 for the 2023 launch of the company’s Blue Ghost lander carrying NASA payloads. That lander will be launched on another company’s rocket rather than Alpha.

Like all new rockets, the first launch will be highly risky. If successful however it will add one more launch company to the smallsat market, and encourage a further drop in the cost of getting such smallsats into orbit.

Firefly shakes up board of directors

The smallsat rocket company Firefly, only a month or so from the first orbital test flight of its Alpha rocket, has drastically changed its board of directors, removing its main financial backer from the Ukraine and replacing him with Americans.

Among those no longer on the board is Firefly’s financial savior, Polyakov, who has dual Ukrainian-British citizenship and lives in Edinburgh. This is a substantial change, as it moves the company’s key financial backer from a role as a decision maker to that of a stockholder. Markusic said Polyakov has the rights of a stockholder but that Firefly’s board now directs the company. Polyakov remains Firefly’s largest shareholder.

“These changes are part of the logical growth and development of Firefly,” Polyakov told Ars. “I’m extremely proud of what we have accomplished to date. Moving forward, I have the utmost confidence in Tom, his team, and the new board members.”

Some concerns had previously been raised about Polyakov’s background. This move, however, is more due to having an all-American board of directors, which should bolster Firefly’s efforts to work with the defense community.

Essentially, the company and Polykov have moved Polykov out of a sensitive position so as to make the company seem more palatable to the federal government. His presence on the board would have likely made it difficult to win any government contracts. Making him in name just a stockholder will reduce that issue.

Firefly gets two new launch contracts; completes testing on 1st stage

Capitalism in space: Firefly announced last week that it has signed two new launch contracts even as it has completed testing on the first stage of its Alpha rocket and has shipped it to the launch site..

One of the two launch contracts was for multiple launches. As for Alpha:

The Alpha Flight 1 Stage 1 performed a 35 second static fire, including a full suite of thrust vector control maneuvers. Subsequently, a 15 second final trim test was performed, and the stage will now ship to Firefly’s launch complex at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB).

Concurrently, the Alpha Flight 1 payload fairing successfully completed a separation test. The payload fairing separation system was designed and manufactured by Firefly. The system is operationally recyclable, allowing for multiple tests of the flight unit.

Firefly is also nearing completion of its Launch Control Center, Integration Hangar, and launch pad, including assembly of the Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) at historic Space Launch Complex 2 West (SLC-2W) at VAFB. Firefly’s TEL, built by Firefly’s design and fabrication teams in Texas and California, is being integrated and will soon commence ground system activation.

They are still aiming for the first launch before the end of this year.

Firefly completes static fire test of its Alpha first stage

Capitalism in space: Firefly Aerospace today released video footage showing the first successful static fire test of the first stage of its Alpha rocket.

I have embedded one of the videos, showing the test from multiple camera angles, below the fold.

The test is very impressive, and suggests strongly that they are on schedule to meet their target launch date for their first orbital test flight sometime between November ’20 and May ’21. It also suggests that this dark horse smallsat rocket company, once considered dead after filing for bankruptcy, might actually beat to orbit its closest competitors, Virgin Orbit and Astra. The latter two have already completed their first launch attempts, but both ended in failure.

Regardless, it appears the race between these three rocket companies is tightening. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if all three achieve their first orbital launches in the six to eight months.
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Next Starship test flight to go to 60,000 feet

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has decided, after two successful 500 foot hops using its fifth and sixth Starship prototypes, to forego further hops with those prototypes and instead test fly prototype number eight to a height of 60,000 feet, about 11 miles.

Starship SN5 and SN6 were set to become a tag-team, flying 150-meter hops to refine the launch and landing techniques that SpaceX has pioneered with its Falcon 9 rocket. However, with SN5’s hop proving to be a success, followed by a notable improvement with SN6’s leap to 150 meters a few weeks later, it’s likely SpaceX is now confident of advancing to the next milestone.

The company has applied for an FCC license to do the flight anytime from Oct ’20 to April ’21, with October 11th being the first available date.

In the meantime the company plans a pressure tank test to failure of prototype #7, probably later this week.

In other related news at the second link, Boeing and Firefly have also applied for FCC licenses, the former for a Starliner demo mission from November ’20 to May ’21, the latter for its first launch of its smallsat Alpha rocket, also from November ’20 to May ’21.

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