Firefly’s second rocket set for launch from California – Spaceflight Now


Firefly’s Alpha launch car stands on its launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base on Sept. 10. Credit: Brian Sandoval / Spaceflight Now

A yr after an early engine shutdown minimize quick an inaugural take a look at flight, Firefly Aerospace’s second Alpha launcher is scheduled to take off Sunday from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on an illustration mission to position seven small satellites into orbit.

The 96.7-foot-tall (29.5-meter) Alpha launch car is about to take off from Space Launch Complex 2-West at Vandenberg throughout a four-hour window opening at 3 p.m. PDT (6 p.m. EDT; 2200 GMT).

Firefly, based mostly in Cedar Park, Texas, has given the second Alpha launch the nickname “To The Black.” The objective this time is to achieve house, following a failure on the primary Alpha take a look at launch Sept. 2, 2021, attributable to the untimely shutdown of one of many rocket’s 4 first stage essential engines.

Engineers decided that {an electrical} difficulty prompted one of many 4 kerosene-fueled Reaver engines on the primary stage to close down about 15 seconds after liftoff final yr. Propellant circulation valves closed to terminate thrust from the engine, however the rocket’s different three engines continued powering the rocket into the sky.

The rocket climbed slower than anticipated, its steerage pc commanding the remaining REaver powerplants to swivel their nozzles to maintain the launcher on the right track with out the assistance of the lifeless engine. The Alpha launcher lastly misplaced management because it reached supersonic velocity. The vary security staff at Vandenberg despatched a command to terminate the flight about two-and-a-half minutes after liftoff, and the rocket exploded.

Firefly is now again on the SLC-2W launch pad at Vandenberg, the previous West Coast house of United Launch Alliance’s Delta 2 rocket. There are seven small satellites mounted to the highest of the Alpha launcher, which accomplished a test-firing of its 4 engines on the pad final month. Firefly raised the rocket vertical Saturday for last countdown preparations.

The two-stage Alpha rocket is designed to loft as much as 2,580 kilos (1,170 kilograms) right into a low-altitude orbit, or as much as 1,642 kilos (745 kilograms) of payload to a 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) sun-synchronous polar orbit. The Alpha is certainly one of many privately-developed small satellite tv for pc launchers new to the market.

Firefly’s 95-foot-tall Alpha launch car is raised vertical Saturday on Space Launch Complex-2 West at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News

Firefly moved in on the SLC-2W launch web site after the ultimate United Launch Alliance Delta 2 rocket took off from the pad in 2018.

In addition to upgrading the Delta integration constructing and help services on the web site, Firefly put in a model new launch mount and transporter-erector on the pad. The Delta 2 was stacked vertically on the launch pad, whereas the Alpha launcher is assembled horizontally, then rolled out and lifted upright for launch.

Four Reaver engines on the primary stage will generate greater than 165,000 kilos of thrust at most energy, and a Lightning engine on the second stage will produce greater than 15,000 kilos of thrust. The rocket first and second phases measure about 6 ft, or 1.8 meters, in diameter, and the payload fairing is barely wider at 6.6 ft (2 meters).

Firefly says it expects to promote a devoted Alpha launch for $15 million per flight.

Firefly says the scale of its rocket — which might carry heavier payloads than Rocket Lab’s Electron or Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne — differentiates it from different potential launch suppliers within the smallsat launch market.

Firefly Aerospace was beforehand named Firefly Space Systems earlier than coming into chapter. The renamed firm emerged from chapter proceedings in 2017 beneath new possession led by Noosphere Ventures, a Menlo Park, California-based agency led by Ukrainian-born managing accomplice Max Polyakov.

The firm underwent one other possession shakeup earlier this yr when AE Industrial Partners bought Noosphere’s stake. The Committee on Foreign Investment within the United States requested Polyakov promote his share of Firefly possession, and the U.S. authorities restricted Firefly’s operations at Vandenberg till the sale was accomplished, the corporate mentioned in a press release final yr.

With Polyakov’s Noosphere Ventures out of the image, Firefly resumed launch operations at Vandenberg forward of the second Alpha take a look at flight.

Firefly’s Alpha launch car stands on its launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base on Sept. 10. Credit: Brian Sandoval / Spaceflight Now

While Firefly’s near-term focus is on the Alpha rocket program, the corporate final month introduced an settlement with Northrop Grumman to develop and construct engines for an upgraded model of the Antares rocket used to launch resupply missions to the International Space Station. Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket is at the moment powered by Russian-made engines, and the corporate solely has engines for 2 extra Antares flights earlier than needing to transition to a U.S.-made propulsion system.

Firefly can be a accomplice with NASA to develop a robotic lunar lander to move science experiments to the moon.

The firm is planning a second launch web site that might be positioned on the disused Complex 20 launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

For its second demonstration mission, Firefly’s Alpha rocket will try to launch on an identical mission profile to the one it was imagined to fly on the failed take a look at flight final yr. It will goal a 186-mile-high inclined 137 levels to the equator. The uncommon orbit, known as a retrograde orbit as a result of the rocket will journey in opposition to the Earth’s rotation, would require the Alpha launcher to go southwest over the Pacific Ocean on a monitor passing simply south of Hawaii.

The Alpha’s Reaver first stage engines will shut down practically three minutes after liftoff, earlier than the booster jettisons to fall into the Pacific Ocean. The second stage’s Lightning engine for a six-minute burn to achieve a parking orbit, adopted by a coast midway around the globe earlier than reigniting the engine about 54 minutes after liftoff.

If all goes in keeping with plan, the rocket will deploy seven CubeSats and tiny “picosatellite” payloads about an hour into the mission.

The satellites on the Alpha rocket set for launch Sunday embrace an CubeSat known as Serenity 2 developed by Teachers in Space, a non-profit group with a mission to excite college students about science, know-how, engineering and arithmetic by offering their lecturers with house science experiences and trade connections. While the first objective of the three.7-pound (1.7-kilogram) Serenity 2 CubeSat is to help training, the nanosatellite additionally carries devices to gather information on atmospheric stress, temperature and radiation.

The TechEdSat 15 CubeSat developed at NASA’s Ames Research Center can be aboard the Alpha rocket to check a drag brake mechanism that would assist goal the re-entry of small satellites. The deployable “eco-brake” is designed to generate drag and speed up the deorbit of a small spacecraft. The system flying on the 9.1-pound (4.1-kilogram) TechEdSat 15 spacecraft is meant to outlive increased temperatures, as much as a number of hundred levels, and “will demonstrate the next step forward in nanosatellites’ ability to target an Earth entry point,” Firefly mentioned.

Artist’s idea of a TechEdSat spacecraft with an exo-brake system. Credit: NASA

“The exo-brake is a device that applies drag in Earth’s exosphere — the uppermost reaches of the atmosphere — to slow the speed of a satellite’s descent and change its direction,” Firefly mentioned. “This experiment will permit the satellite to survive closer-to-peak heating, maintain telemetry, and assess the dynamics as the system enters the top of the atmosphere.”

Five smaller “picosats” are additionally mounted in a deployer on Firefly’s Alpha rocket. Here’s an outline of these payloads from Firefly’s press equipment.

• The GENESIS-L and GENESIS-N payloads from from AMSAT Spain will launch on a know-how demonstration mission for beginner radio operators, and take a look at a micro sub-joule pulsed plasma thruster.

• The FOSSASAT-1B picosat from Fossa Systems in Spain will take a look at lengthy vary communications, an perspective willpower and management system, and a low-resolution Earth imager

• The Qubik 3 and Qubik 4 payloads from Libre Space Foundation, based mostly in Greece, will carry out a number of telecommunications experiments.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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