The first flight of the Firefly Aerospace launcher will take place in 2019
– News of May 8, 2018 –
An incredible number of companies has been created in recent years to make light launchers. Among these companies, Firefly Space Systems went bankrupt. Founded in 2014, the company started working on the Firefly Alpha launcher. This launcher was promising : FR2 engines on the first floor were designed to run on methane. The Firefly Space Systems solution was a bit special since the first floor was equipped with 12 traditional nozzles but it poured their products of combustion on a specific structure. This was to allow optimal operation at almost all altitudes and a propellant saving of 20% to 30% during the early phases of flight.
Firefly Space Systems would have been the first organization to develop a launcher equipped with this technology. But the company went bankrupt. It appears, however, that the company was launched with new investors. This time, the company’s name is Firefly Aerospace. This name change was accompanied by drastic changes for the Firefly Alpha launcher. The launcher must burn kerosene with conventional nozzles. The capacity of the new launcher has increased : the first version of the Firefly Alpha was to be able to place 400 kilos in low orbit, while the new version will be able to carry a payload of one ton.
Firefly Aerospace has just received approval from the US Air Force to use the Vandenberg base launch pad, currently used by the Delta 2 rocket, which will soon be retiring. The pad will be modified to fire Firefly Alpha launchers. The first flights should arrive quickly even if the engine of the first floor changes strongly. The structure of the launcher is made of carbon fiber and the engine of the second floor are recovered from the previous project, which allows Firefly Aerospace to plan an inaugural flight in the third quarter of 2019. The company hopes to reach quickly a monthly rythm of launches.
The capacity of one ton of Firefly Alpha puts the launcher as a credible competitor to the PSLV, the Indian launcher. The PSLV is a very popular solution for Small Sats’ clustering, a role that Firefly Aerospace would like to have. We have just learned that Arianespace also wants Vega to have this role. The small European launcher will test next year the deployment platform of CubeSat.Sources