Living in the dream realm of the cosmos while having feet planted firmly on terra firma is exactly what the dynamic team at Firefly Aerospace Inc. does best.
Led by CEO, wrencher, and engineer Tom Markusic, Firefly’s Austin, Texas-based team of space industry veterans is striving to make accessing space for commercial purposes easier and more convenient than ever before. To make an impact on the quickly growing small – satellite commercial market, one of the core tenants of Firefly’s mission success is the revolutionary Firefly Alpha rocket.
Rather than develop and build products in-house, Alpha is built from commercial off–the–shelf (COTS) components that are sourced from trusted suppliers located all across the United States. This unique approach allows the Firefly team to deliver twice-monthly launches for a dedicated mission price of $15 million, giving the Firefly Alpha the lowest cost per kilogram to orbit in its vehicle class.
Curious how the Firefly team accomplished this lofty task? Read on to learn more.
Built to fulfill the needs of the growing small-satellite market, the Alpha Rocket is designed to allow commercial customers the opportunity to place small satellites into either low earth orbit (LEO) or Sun–Synchronous Orbit (SSO) orbit for a lower price, with a higher level of reliability and convenience.
Standing at an impressive 29m (95 ft) tall with a Stage 1 Diameter of 1.8 m (6 ft), a Stage 2 diameter of 1.8 m (6 ft), and a payload fairing diameter of 2 m (6.6 ft); Firefly Alpha utilizes advanced carbon fiber composites that are prized for their incredible strength, near-infinite tailorable characteristics, and most importantly, lightweight. This makes the Alpha stronger and lighter than comparable metal airframes. Advanced carbon fiber construction is also showcased in Alpha’s state-of-the-art, linerless propellant tanks.
Stage 1 propulsion is provided by 4 state-of-the-art “Reaver” 1 LOx/RP-1 engines. Propellant is fed via a Turbopump with 4 combustors, and the Reaver achieves a thrust (VAC) rating of 736.1 kN (165,482 lb ft.) with an ISP (VAC) of 295.6 seconds. Stage 2 propulsion is provided by 1 Lighting 1 LOX / RP–1 engine with a Turbopump propellant feed, 1 combustor 70.1 kN, a thrust (VAC) rating of (15,759 lb ft.), and an ISP (VAC) of 322 seconds.
Firefly Avionics includes a combination of bespoke components and other COTS elements that are designed to provide reliability and optimum mission accuracy. Data Acquisition is completed using an ultra-rugged, modular Data Acquisition Chassis while a Firefly flight computer transmits data along with video feed to various Earth ground stations for the duration of the flight. These advanced components are the brains of the Alpha Rocket.
At the heart of Firefly Alpha are 4 state-of-the-art Reaver engines.
Built with exceedingly simple yet accurate single-axis gimballing, and our simple “Crossfire” injector, tap-off geometry, dual-mounted electrically actuated, trimmable propellant main valves, and ultra-compact horizontal turbopump mounting; Reaver is powerful and reliable. Built with international cooperation from an engineering team in Ukraine that designed a separated turbopump that separates both fuel and oxygen pumps, Reaver represents a truly international effort.
On September 2nd, Firefly conducted its very first Alpha test from Vandenburg AFB in California and encountered an anomaly that resulted in forced termination over the Pacific Ocean. Although the vehicle did not make it into orbit, the flight provided crucial data that allowed Firefly to determine an electrical issue shut down one of Alpha’s 4 Reaver engines mid-flight. This data will also allow Firefly to refine and reconstruct for a successful launch in the future.
Reaver will roar again.
Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is among the fastest-growing segments for commercial space growth due to the changing technological requirements of our expanding global population. LEO satellites are common for applications such as communications, military reconnaissance, spying, and other imaging applications that require constellations or groupings of satellites. Firefly Alpha is designed to launch a metric ton of payload (1000 kg) into LEO. For the highly desirable and more challenging Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), Firefly Alpha can deliver payloads of up to 630 kg.
In order to produce a cutting-edge product that successfully enters into the vast frontiers of space, a strong corporate culture with motivated, high achieving teams, and dedicated leadership are key.
Rather than be deterred by their first launch, the Firefly team became even more motivated and more determined than ever to achieve successful, repeatable results. This is a team with a true fire in their gut and an unyielding passion for all things space. From teams of engineers that specialize in everything from communications to avionics, to the skilled machinists that handcraft crucial components; every soul under the Firefly umbrella is bound for greatness.
The Firefly team is aiming for another launch by January of 2022, pending a resolution of regulatory requirements. By the end of 2022, the Firefly team intends to launch 5 more rockets, along with continuing their advanced lunar exploration programs.
There’s no doubt about it, we are in the age of a space renaissance.
Whether it’s celebrities being launched into orbit, or an ever-evolving interest in advanced LEO satellites that can do everything from help with global warming to bringing the realities of a connected world one step closer; this is the new golden age of space exploration.
For human beings, consciously exploring the vastness of space really is the final frontier and the Firefly team is built for conquering this immense challenge. As technology marches forward, firms like Firefly will become instrumental in the humanities progress toward a more equitable, more connected future that brings the world together in ways that were never thought to be possible.
From commercial LEO and SSO satellite deployment to the exploration of the moon with the stunning Blue Ghost Lunar Lander, Firefly’s exponential growth is perfectly timed with the world’s renewed focus on what lies just beyond what our imagination can comprehend. Our unique model allows us to bridge the gap of cost and capability to bring the realities of small payload space travel to more companies, in a shorter period of time.