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.

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Launchapalooza: 26 New Boosters Debuting Worldwide

Vega-C lifts off on its maiden flight on July 13, 2022. (Credit: Arianespace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During the first seven months of the year, five new satellite launch vehicles from Europe, China, Russia and South Korea flew successfully for the first time. As impressive as that is, it was a mere opening act to a busy period that could see at least 20 additional launchers debut around the world.

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Tom Markusic Out as Firefly CEO 3 Months After AEI Takes Majority Stake in Rocket Company

Tom Markusic and Lauren Lyons in front of Firefly Alpha rocket on the pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Firefly Aerospace co-founder Tom Markusic is out as CEO, a move that comes three months after AE Industrial Partners (AEI) led a $75 million Series B funding round and completed its acquisition of a majority stake in the rocket company.

Firefly announced this week that Markusic transitioned to the role of full-time board member and chief technical advisor on Thursday, June 16. He remains “a significant minority investor” in the company, which is preparing for the second flight test of its Alpha small-satellite booster.

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Rocket Updates: Relativity, Firefly and PLD Space Move Toward Launches

Relativity Space’s Terran 1 arrives at Cape Canaveral for its maiden launch. (Credit: Relativity Space)

Relativity Space’s Terran 1 booster has arrived at Cape Canaveral in Florida in preparation for its maiden flight later this year.

Dedicated Mission: $12 million

First Stage: 9 Aeon engines
Second Stage: 1 Aeon engine

Maximum Payload:
1,250 kg to 185 km low Earth orbit

Nominal Payload:
900 kg to 500 km sun synchronous orbit

High Altitude Payload:
700 kg to 1200 km sun synchronous orbit

Employees wave goodbye to a rocket stage being shipped to Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

Firefly Aerospace has shipped both stages required for the second flight test of its Alpha booster from Briggs, Texas to Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The launch, which has been named To the Black, could occur in July.

First Stage: 4 Reaver 1 engines
Second Stage: 1 Lightning 1 engine

Payload

1,170 kg to low Earth orbit
Inclination: 28.5°
Altitude: 200 km

745 kg to sun synchronous orbit
Altitude: 500 km

MIURA 1 rocket on the launch pad for tests. (Credit: PLD Space)

PLD Space has its MIURA 1 single-stage suborbital rocket on the launch pad for tests.

First Stage:  1 TEPREL-B engine

Payload

100 kg to 150 km

AE Industrial Partners Reaches a Definitive Agreement to Acquire a Significant Stake in Firefly Aerospace, a Leading Provider of Launch and In-Space Vehicles

Definitive Agreement on Acquisition by U.S.-based Investment Firm will Fuel Firefly’s Continued Journey as a Leader in End-to-End Space Transportation

BOCA RATON, Fla., Feb. 24, 2022 (AEI PR) — AE Industrial Partners, LP (“AEI”), a U.S-based private equity firm specializing in aerospace, defense & government services, space, power and utility services, and specialty industrial markets, announced today that it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire a significant stake in Firefly Aerospace (“Firefly” or “the Company”), an emerging leader in economical launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, from Noosphere Venture Partners LP (“Noosphere”). Transaction closing is subject to the satisfaction of regulatory approvals, including Hart-Scott-Rodino (“HSR”) clearance. Other terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

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Firefly Aerospace Halts Launch Activities at Vandenberg as Majority Owner Polyakov Forced to Sell Stake in Company

Bloomberg reports that Firefly Aerospace has stopped preparations for the second launch of its Alpha booster due to a decision by the U.S. government to force the company’s majority owner, Ukrainian entrepreneur, Max Polyakov to sell his majority stake in the company.

Government and aerospace industry officials have expressed objections to Polyakov’s control of the company amid fears that valuable technology could make its way to Ukraine, Russia or other nations trying to develop rocket programs. Despite putting more than $200 million of his fortune into Firefly, Polyakov agreed to step down from the company’s board and Firefly’s day-to-day activities in late 2020 to help make it easier for the company to win U.S. government and military contracts and ease some of the underlying tensions. 

In late November, however, Polyakov received a letter from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, that called out national security worries and requested that Polyakov and his investment firm Noosphere Venture Partners sell off their roughly 50% stake in Firefly. Polyakov agreed to this demand, according to his spokespeople, while maintaining that his ownership of Firefly poses no national security threats. “Noosphere Ventures announced today that it intends to retain an investment banking firm to assist in the sale of Noosphere Ventures’ ownership interest in Firefly Aerospace,” Polyakov’s company said in a statement. 

While educated as an obstetrician-gynecologist, Polyakov made his fortune through business software ventures and internet gaming, dating and marketing sites. He rescued Firefly from bankruptcy in 2017 and poured money into the company to revitalize it. In September, Firefly conducted its first rocket launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in Southern California. The rocket didn’t reach orbit but performed well for an initial launch, and the company has been racing to fire up a second one.

The U.S. government halted Firefly’s current rocket launch operations at Vandenberg as the ownership issue with Polyakov plays out, according to two people familiar with the situation. The clashes between Polyakov and the U.S. haven’t been previously reported.

Engine Failure Doomed Firefly Alpha’s Maiden Flight

The premature shutdown of one of Firefly Alpha’s four first stage Reaver engines 15 seconds into the flight doomed the maiden launch of the new booster from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Thursday, the company said.

“It was an uneventful shutdown – the engine didn’t fail — the propellant main valves on the engine simply closed and thrust terminated from engine 2. 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,” Firefly said in a commentary accompanying a new video of the launch.

“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,” the statement said.

“Firefly has commenced a thorough anomaly investigation to gain understanding of why engine 2 shutdown early, and uncover any other relevant unexpected events during flight. We will report root cause of the anomaly at the end of this investigation. In collaboration with the FAA and our partners at Space Launch Delta 30, we will return to conduct the second Alpha flight as soon as possible,” Firefly said.

“Although the vehicle did not make it to orbit, the day marked a major advancement for the Firefly team, as we demonstrated that we “arrived” as a company capable of building and launching rockets. We also acquired a wealth of flight data that will greatly enhance the likelihood of Alpha achieving orbit during its second flight. In short, we had a very successful first flight,” the company added.

Firefly Aerospace Reviewing Flight Data of Failed Alpha Rocket Launch

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif., September 2, 2021 (Firefly Aerospace PR) — Today we conducted the first-ever test flight of our Alpha booster. Prior to the anomaly, we had a countdown and lift off at 6:59 pm local time. While we did not meet all of our mission objectives, we did achieve a number of them: successful first stage ignition, liftoff off the pad, progression to supersonic speed, and we obtained a substantial amount of flight data.

More than two minutes into the flight, Apha experienced an anomaly resulting in the early end of the mission. At Firefly, our goal is to always look out for the safeyt of our employees, partners, and community. We are happy to report that there were no injuries associated with the anomaly.

While it’s too early to draw conclusions as to the root cause, we will be diligent in our investigation, in partnership with the FAA and Vandenberg Space Force Base. We will utilize the data we obtained from the test flight and apply it to future missions. Our engineers are currently combing through thousands of lines of ground and flight system telemetry in order to better understand what occurred.

We want to thank the teams at Vandenberg Space Force Base and Space Launch Delta 30 for their partnership in this launch and the FAA for their continued support. We will be providing further updates as more information becomes available.

Full Video of Firefly Alpha’s Launch & Explosion

Video Caption: Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket suffered an in-flight anomaly on its debut launch. Shot on September 2nd, 2021 from the press site at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Video and Pictures from Jack Beyer (@TheJackBeyer) and Michael Baylor (@NextSpaceFlight). Edited by Jack Beyer.

Firefly Alpha Rocket Fails in Maiden Launch Attempt

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket failed in its maiden launch attempt on Thursday evening, dealing a setback to the Tom Markusic-led company that is seeking to establish itself in the small-satellite launch industry.

Video of the flight showed the two stage rocket tumbling out of control before exploding after liftoff at 6:59 p.m. PDT from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The explosion occurred about 1 minute 45 seconds into the flight.

“Alpha experienced an anomaly during first stage ascent that resulted in the loss of the vehicle. As we gather more information, additional details will be provided,” the Texas-based company tweeted.

The rocket was carrying small satellites from the United States, United Kingdom, Greece and Spain.

Failure on a maiden rocket launch is not unusual. Launch vehicles that suffered catastrophic failures on their first flights have gone on to succeed.

The two-stage, 29 meter (95 foot) tall Alpha booster is capable of delivery one metric ton (2,205 lb) to low Earth orbit and 630 kg (1,389 lb) to a 500 km (311 mile) high sun-synchronous orbit. Firefly is charging $15 million for a dedicated launch.

Firefly Alpha Launch Scheduled for Thursday Evening From Vandenberg

Tom Markusic and Lauren Lyons in front of Firefly Alpha rocket on the pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

Firefly Aerospace will attempt the maiden flight of its Alpha booster later today from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The window for the rideshare mission extends from 6 to 10 p.m. PDT (0100-0500 UTC on Friday). A livestream of the launch will be available through Everyday Astronaut beginning one hour before the scheduled liftoff.

The rideshare mission will carry a number of payloads, which are show below.

PayloadPurposeCompany/ OrganizationNation
 DREAMCubeSat deployerFireflyUSA
BSS1 (DFAST Demonstrator)Technology demonstrationBenchmark SpaceUSA
CRESST DREAM COMETTechnology demonstrationUniversity of CambridgeUK
Firefly Capsule 1EducationFireflyUSA
FOSSASAT 1bLoRa communicationsFOSSA SystemsSpain
FOSSASAT 2PhotographyFOSSA SystemsSpain
GENESIS LAmateur radio/PropulsionAMSAT-EASpain
GENESIS NAmateur radio/PropulsionAMSAT-EASpain
HiapoThermospheric researchHawaii Science and Technology MuseumUSA
NPS-CENETIX-Orbital 1Technology demonstrationAT&T / NPSUSA
PICOBUS-1PocketQube deployerLibre Space FoundationGreece
QUBIK 1Amateur radioLibre Space FoundationGreece
QUBIK 2Amateur radioLibre Space FoundationGreece
Spinnaker3Technology demonstrationPurdue UniversityUSA
TIS SerenityEducationTeachers in Space, Inc.USA

Source: Wikipedia

The two-stage, 29 meter (95 foot) tall Alpha booster is capable of delivery one metric ton (2,205 lb) to low Earth orbit and 630 kg (1,389 lb) to a 500 km (311 mile) high sun-synchronous orbit. Firefly is charging $15 million for a dedicated launch.

Spacecraft Deorbiting Device Developed at Purdue Ready for Firefly Alpha Launch on Thursday

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (Purdue University PR) — A drag sail that a team at Purdue University developed to pull launch vehicles in space back to Earth is scheduled to undergo a test launch on Thursday (Sept. 2).

The mission, set to take off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, will evaluate how well the prototype helps its vehicle deorbit from space after mission completion. A livestream of the launch will be available through Everyday Astronaut.

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Rogue Space and Firefly Aerospace Sign Launch Service Agreement

Part of a strategic collaboration to meet the growing demand for reliable in-space transport and access to  geostationary orbit (GEO), Rogue Space has contracted  Firefly as their first launch vehicle supplier  targeting an initial launch in Q3 2023. 

LACONIA, NH (August 30, 2021) Rogue Space Systems Corporation, a U.S. company that is developing a smart spacecraft program and is planning to offer transport, and in-space services to the growing space market, and Firefly Aerospace, a leading provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, today announced they have signed a Launch Service Agreement (LSA). The agreement confirms that Rogue has secured the entire payload  mass capacity aboard a Firefly Alpha rocket, scheduled for liftoff from Cape  Canaveral  in the fall of 2023.  

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Firefly Alpha Completes Static Fire at Vandenberg, Launch Scheduled for Sept. 2

Firefly Aerospace has completed a successful static fire of its Alpha booster at the Vandenberg Space Force Station. The company also announced that it is planning the inaugural launch of the new rocket on Sept. 2 from the California military base.

The rideshare mission will carry a number of payloads, which are show below.

PayloadPurposeCompany/ OrganizationNation
 DREAMCubeSat deployerFireflyUSA
BSS1 (DFAST Demonstrator)Technology demonstrationBenchmark SpaceUSA
CRESST DREAM COMETTechnology demonstrationUniversity of CambridgeUK
Firefly Capsule 1EducationFireflyUSA
FOSSASAT 1bLoRa communicationsFOSSA SystemsSpain
FOSSASAT 2PhotographyFOSSA SystemsSpain
GENESIS LAmateur radio/PropulsionAMSAT-EASpain
GENESIS NAmateur radio/PropulsionAMSAT-EASpain
HiapoThermospheric researchHawaii Science and Technology MuseumUSA
NPS-CENETIX-Orbital 1Technology demonstrationAT&T / NPSUSA
PICOBUS-1PocketQube deployerLibre Space FoundationGreece
QUBIK 1Amateur radioLibre Space FoundationGreece
QUBIK 2Amateur radioLibre Space FoundationGreece
Spinnaker3Technology demonstrationPurdue UniversityUSA
TIS SerenityEducationTeachers in Space, Inc.USA
Source: Wikipedia

The two-stage, 29 meter (95 foot) tall Alpha booster is capable of delivery one metric ton (2,205 lb) to low Earth orbit and 630 kg (1,389 lb) to a 500 km (311 mile) high sun-synchronous orbit. Firefly is charging $15 million for a dedicated launch.

Firefly to Become the Premier Supplier of Rocket Engines and Spaceflight Components for the Emerging New Space Industry

Reaver engines (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

CEDAR PARK, Texas, August 6, 2021 (Firefly Aerospace PR) – Firefly Aerospace, Inc., a leading provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, today announced the launch of a new line of business dedicated to supplying rocket engines and other spaceflight components to the emerging New Space industry. 

“Our goal with this line of business is to become the Tier 1 supplier of components to the New Space industry,” said Tom Markusic, CEO of Firefly Aerospace. “Our component sales business model has inherent advantages over businesses that focus on a single (e.g., rocket engines) or narrow range (e.g., valves) of components.”

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