Firefly Eyes Mid-September Launch for Second Alpha Mission

Second Firefly Alpha rocket on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I’ve been making the rounds in the Utah State University Fieldhouse here in Logan talking with the various companies with booths at Small Satellite 2022 conference. Here is the first of several updates.

The window for Firefly Aerospace’s second attempt to launch its Alpha booster opens on Sept. 11. That flight will be out of Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The rocket is already on the launch pad at Vandenberg undergoing pre-flight tests.

Firefly Alpha is capable of launching 1,000 kg into low Earth orbit (LEO) or 630 kg into sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

The launch window will open just over one year after the booster failed during its maiden flight on Sept. 2, 2021. The rocket suffered a first-stage engine failure shortly after launch and began to veer off course, trigging the flight termination system.

It’s been an eventful year for Firefly since that failure. In November 2021, the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment forced Ukrainian national Maxim Polyakov and his investment firm Noosphere Venture Partners to see their stake in the company for national security reasons. Polyakov denied he was a security threat, but complied with the demand to sell and subsequently left the country.

AE Industrial Partners bought the shares. In March, the company completed a $75 million Series B funding round and acquired majority control of Firefly. Three months later, Firefly announced that Founder Tom Markusic was leaving the company.

On Monday, Firefly and Northrop Grumman announced a partnership to develop a new first stage for the Antares launch vehicle. Firefly will supply seven Miranda engines for the first stage as well as composites for the stage’s structure and tanks.

Northrop Grumman has found itself in a lurch due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia supplies rocket engines for the Antares first stage, which is built in Ukraine. Russia has said it will not supply any engines to Northrop Grumman due to sanctions imposed by the U.S. government over the invasion.

Northrop Grumman has said it has first stages for only two more Antares launches of Cygnus resupply ships to the International Space Station (ISS). One is scheduled for later this year, and the other for the first half of 2023.

Northrop Grumman has booked three SpaceX Falcon 9 launches to fulfill its ISS resupply contract with NASA. Cygnus freighters were launched on a trio of United Launch Alliance Atlas V boosters after the Antares rocket suffered a catastrophic failure in October 2014.