As the firm balances a shift to operations with intentions to create new rockets and spacecraft, Firefly Aerospace is set to undertake its maiden orbital launch next week. Firefly stated on August 19 that the first deployment of the Alpha rocket from the Vandenberg Space Force Base located in California would take place on September 2. The news came a day after the tiny launch vehicle successfully completed a 15-second static fire assessment on the Vandenberg pad.
According to Tom Markusic, chief executive officer of Firefly, the sole milestone left before the planned launch is finalising documentation, he said in a discussion during 36th Space Symposium here on August 24. He said, “The static-fire test was perfect.” “The rocket would have soared if we had let it go. “Everything appears to be in order.” That rocket has undergone thorough testing, including approximately 20 hot-fire tests. He said, “This car has clearly been pushed through its paces.” “We’re all set to go.”
The rocket might have been ready sooner if a component for the flight termination mechanism had not arrived on time. Markusic declined to name the component or its manufacturer but stated it was among the company’s few important components that were not developed in-house. “The vendor was unable to qualify and deliver the components on time,” he explained. “That flight termination system is a year behind schedule.”
The Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM), a Firefly project to provide a free launch for academic and other private payloads, will be carried on the first Alpha launch. The flight will also evaluate components of the Space Utility Vehicle, a company-developed orbital transfer vehicle.
If the maiden flight is a reality, Markusic stated a second Alpha might be ready to launch with a commercial payload as early as December. He did admit, though, that a new vehicle’s maiden launch entails a larger risk of failure.
“It’s not uncommon to have an irregularity on the first flight, and depending on the degree of the anomaly. It may take several weeks to many months” to resolve the issue, he said. “Because Alpha is a relatively simple rocket design, we believe that whatever issue we encounter can be resolved relatively quickly.”
As Firefly goes from development to operations, a successful launch would present a new set of hurdles. “The move from R&D to manufacturing will be extremely difficult,” Markusic said.