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Firefly Aerospace

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Firefly Aerospace
FoundedMarch 2017; 7 years ago (2017-03)
  • Tom Markusic
United States
Key people
Bill Weber (CEO)
ProductsLaunch Vehicles
Lunar Landers
On-orbit Solutions (Elytra)
Number of employees
United States: 750

Firefly Aerospace[1][2] is an American private aerospace firm based in Cedar Park, Texas, that develops launch vehicles for commercial launches to orbit. The company completed its $75 million Series A investment round in May 2021, which was led by DADA Holdings.[3] The current company was formed when the assets of the former company Firefly Space Systems were acquired by EOS Launcher in March 2017, which was then renamed Firefly Aerospace. Firefly's stated purpose is to increase access to space,[4] similar to other private spaceflight companies.

Firefly Alpha lifting off the pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 2, 2021.

Launch vehicles[edit]

Firefly Alpha[edit]

The Alpha vehicle developed by Firefly Aerospace is an expendable launch vehicle capable of lifting 1,030 kg (2,270 lb) to low Earth orbit and 630 kg (1,390 lb) to Sun-synchronous orbit. Firefly's advertised launch price is US$15 million. Alpha is designed to compete with vehicles like ISRO's PSLV, ABL SS's RS1, and Northrop Grumman's Pegasus. It uses four Reaver engines on its first stage and one Lightning engine on its second, with a lightweight carbon composite structure to reduce dry mass, resulting in an improved payload fraction.[5]

Alpha performed its first partially successful orbital launch on October 1, 2022, after an unsuccessful first attempt on September 3, 2021.[6] The first fully successful launch of Alpha took place on September 15, 2023. Firefly launched this mission 27 hours after receiving notice to launch, setting a new national security mission responsive-launch record.[7] The previous responsive-launch record was 21 days in June 2021.[8][7] Firefly's fourth launch on December 22, 2023 was also partially successful, with the second stage failing to perform its circularization burn, leaving its payload in an elliptical orbit instead.[9]


Previous designs[edit]

Firefly previously pursued a medium-lift launch vehicle design known as Firefly Beta, which consisted of three Alpha cores strapped together.[10] In October 2019, Firefly announced a partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop a single core rocket potentially powered by Rocketdyne's AR1 engine.[11] In 2020, the Beta was redesigned to be a scaled up Alpha. The first stage would be 3.7 m (12 ft) in diameter with 5 Reaver 2 engines capable of delivering 8000 kg to LEO or 5800 kg to SSO inside a 4.7 m (15 ft) fairing. In October 2021, the first Beta launch was planned for the second half of 2024.[12]

Current design[edit]

Since its announcement in August 2022, the MLV design has undergone several revisions.[13] Now known as the Medium Launch Vehicle, or MLV, the rocket is now 4.32 m (14.17 ft) in diameter with 7 Miranda engines on the first stage and 1 Vira engine on the second stage.[14] It will be capable of delivering over 16,000 kg to LEO in a 5 m (16.4 ft) fairing.[15] The first MLV launch is scheduled for 2026 from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. MLV will initially be expendable but will eventually "incorporate first-stage reusability."[16]

In 2024, the company reported on social media that it was progressing and on track with the Miranda engine testing.[17]

Antares 300[edit]

Firefly is a subcontractor for the Northrop Grumman Antares series 300, providing the first stage, which consists of a de-rated MLV first stage. The second stage is carried over from the previous Antares 230+. Wallops LP-0A is being retrofitted to support the new, larger, more powerful first stage.[18][19][20] In April 2024, the company announced testing was occurring on the Antares 300.[21]

Firefly Gamma[edit]

Firefly FRE-R1 engine test, September 2015

Firefly Gamma was a concept of a winged rocket to launch small payloads into orbit. It would have been a two-stage-to-orbit partially reusable rocket, with its first stage landing horizontally on a runway.[22][23]

Lunar landers[edit]

Blue Ghost[edit]

Blue Ghost is a class of lunar landers designed at Firefly's Cedar Park facility to meet the updated NASA requirements for a Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) lunar lander. The lander is named after the blue ghost firefly Phausis reticulata.[24]


Blue Ghost missions[edit]

Blue Ghost M1[edit]

On February 4, 2021, NASA awarded Firefly a contract worth US$93.3 million to deliver a suite of ten science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023. The award is part of the CLPS initiative, in which NASA is securing the service of commercial partners to quickly land science and technology payloads on the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program.

Firefly Aerospace is the prime contractor responsible for end-to-end delivery services, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon, and mission operations. Subcontractors include SolAero By Rocket Lab, providing the solar panels, and ASI by Rocket Lab, providing the lander flight software, ground software, GN&C software, trajectory design, orbit determination, and avionics/flight software testbed integration. This was the sixth award for lunar surface delivery under the CLPS initiative, and the first delivery awarded to Firefly Aerospace. Firefly's Cedar Park facility will serve as the company's mission operations center for the 2023 delivery and the location of payload integration, with Rocket Lab serving as the backup mission operations center.

The mission is planned to land at Mare Crisium, a 500-km-wide basin visible from Earth. Instruments will gather data to provide insight into the Moon's regolith – loose, fragmented rock and soil – properties, geophysical characteristics, and the interaction of solar wind and Earth's magnetic field,[25] helping to prepare for human missions to the lunar surface.[26]

The payloads, collectively expected to total 94 kg (207 lb) in mass, include:[25]

  • The Regolith Adherence Characterization (RAC), which will determine how lunar regolith sticks to a range of materials exposed to the Moon's environment during landing and lander operations. Components will be derived from the MISSE-FF facility currently on the International Space Station (ISS).
  • The Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors (NGLR), which will serve as a target for lasers on Earth to precisely measure the distance between Earth and the Moon. The retroreflector that will fly on this mission also will provide data that could be used to understand various aspects of the lunar interior and address fundamental physics questions.
  • The Lunar Environment Heliospheric X-ray Imager (LEXI), which will capture images of the interaction of Earth's magnetosphere with the flow of charged particles from the Sun, called the solar wind.
  • The Reconfigurable, Radiation Tolerant Computer System (RadPC), which aims to demonstrate a radiation-tolerant computing technology. Due to the Moon's lack of atmosphere and magnetic field, radiation from the Sun will be a challenge for electronics. This investigation also will characterize the radiation effects on the lunar surface.
  • The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder (LMS), which is designed to characterize the structure and composition of the Moon's mantle by studying electric and magnetic fields. The investigation will make use of a flight-spare magnetometer, a device that measures magnetic fields, originally made for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft currently orbiting Mars.
  • The Lunar Instrumentation for Subsurface Thermal Exploration with Rapidity (LISTER), which is designed to measure heat flow from the interior of the Moon. The probe will attempt to drill 2.13–3.05 m (7 ft 0 in – 10 ft 0 in) into the lunar regolith to investigate the Moon's thermal properties at different depths.
  • The Lunar PlanetVac (LPV), which is designed to acquire lunar regolith from the surface and transfer it to other instruments that would analyze the material or put it in a container that another spacecraft could return to Earth.
  • Stereo CAmeras for Lunar Plume Surface Studies (SCALPSS 1.1), which will capture video and still images of the area under the lander from when the engine plume first disturbs the lunar surface through engine shutdown. Long-focal-length cameras will determine the pre-landing surface topography. Photogrammetry will be used to reconstruct the changing surface during landing. Understanding the physics of rocket exhaust on the regolith, and the displacement of dust, gravel, and rocks is critical to understanding how to best avoid kicking up surface materials during the terminal phase of flight/landing on the Moon and other celestial bodies.
  • The Electrodynamic Dust Shield (EDS), which will generate a non-uniform electric field using varying high voltage on multiple electrodes. This traveling field, in turn, carries away the particles and has potential applications in thermal radiators, spacesuit fabrics, visors, camera lenses, solar panels, and many other technologies.
  • The Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), which is based on GPS. LuGRE will continue to extend the reach of GPS signals and, if successful, be the first to discern GPS signals at lunar distances.

On May 20, 2021, Firefly selected SpaceX's Falcon 9 as the launch vehicle for the first mission, as its own Alpha rocket does not have the performance or payload volume needed to launch Blue Ghost.[27] Firefly's future Beta launch vehicle is expected to support future Blue Ghost missions.[28]

On April 26, 2022, Firefly announced the completion of the Integration Readiness Review (IRR) for the first Blue Ghost lander, M1, with the launch now expected to occur in 2024.[29] In November 2023 Firefly provided a more precise time window for the mission, occurring between the third and the fourth quarters of 2024.[30]In May 2024, the first engines for Blue Ghost were completed.[31]

Blue Ghost M2[edit]

On March 14, 2023, NASA awarded Firefly a $112 million task order for a mission to the far side of the Moon using the second Blue Ghost lander, which is expected to launch in 2026.[32] The Elytra Dark will support it during Mission 2.[33]

Genesis (Defunct)[edit]

On June 9, 2019, Firefly Aerospace announced that it had signed an agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which owns the intellectual property of the Beresheet lunar lander design, to build a lunar lander named Genesis based on Beresheet.[34][35][36] Genesis was proposed for NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) to deliver payloads to the surface of the Moon.[34][35] If selected, Firefly Genesis would have been launched on a Firefly Beta rocket,[35] or a Falcon 9 rocket[36] in late 2022.[37] Due to changing CLPS specifications, Firefly determined that Genesis no longer fit NASA's requirements and started work on a new lunar lander design called Blue Ghost in 2021.[26]


To date, Firefly is the only organization to develop an orbital-class rocket engine utilizing the combustion tap-off cycle, and the only organization to develop a kerolox tap-off cycle engine.

This engine type eliminates traditional gas generators and instead opts to "tap off" the main combustion chamber, utilizing the high heat and pressure within it to drive the pumps.

This provides a slight increase in specific impulse and results in a dramatically simpler and lighter engine, in exchange for increased engineering complexity and requiring more exotic materials in order to handle the high heat and pressure. The startup sequence is also more challenging.

As a result of these challenges, tap-off has been largely ignored, with the only other engines using it being the Rocketdyne J-2S and Blue Origin BE-3.

Firefly designed both Reaver and Lightning in close cooperation with Firefly Aerospace Ukraine which had status of Ukrainian subsidiary of Firefly. Firefly Aerospace Ukraine hadn't any relations to other Ukrainian aerospace companies like Yuzhnoye and Yuzhmash. However Yuzhmash was involved in production of some engine components. There were plans to use Yuzhmash for mass production of Firefly engines but these plans were cancelled.


Reaver is an expendable rocket engine designed for use on Firefly's Alpha rocket. It has a thrust of 184 kN and a specific impulse of 295.6 sec. It is powered by RP-1 and liquid oxygen as its fuel and oxidizer, respectively. Reaver is fixed-throttle, meaning it runs at full power from ignition to first stage shutdown (eschewing the typical throttle-down performed by many vehicles at Max-Q to reduce aerodynamic loads) and is ignited with the pyrophoric combination TEA-TEB (also used on the SpaceX Merlin and Rocketdyne F-1). It utilizes a pintle-type injector.

In 2021, The Verge reported that Astra Space had purchased up to 50 Reaver engines and a technology transfer to license-build their own version of Reaver in-house for their Rocket 4 vehicle.[38] Astra refers to this engine as Chiron. It is largely the same as Reaver, but implements a two-axis hydraulic gimbal and a modified startup sequence.


Lightning is a vacuum-optimized engine designed for use on the upper stage of Firefly's Alpha rocket. Lightning has a thrust of 70.1 kN and an ISP of 322 sec. Like Reaver, Lightning uses RP-1 and LOX as its propellants as well as the same combustion tap-off cycle. It is also re-lightable for missions requiring multiple upper stage burns. It uses Firefly's patented "Crossfire" injector design.


Miranda is Firefly's next-generation rocket engine designed for use on the first stage of its upcoming MLV launch vehicle, in addition to Northrop Grumman's Antares 330. Miranda has a thrust of 1,023 kN and an ISP of 305 sec. Miranda uses the same RP-1 and LOX propellants as Firefly's Reaver and Lightning engines, as well as the combustion tap-off cycle.

Miranda was formerly known as "Reaver 2."


Vira is a vacuum-optimized version of Miranda designed for the upper stage of Firefly's MLV vehicle. It has a vacuum thrust of 890 kN and an ISP of 328 sec, and uses RP-1 and LOX as its propellants. It is re-lightable for missions requiring multiple upper stage burns.[15][14]

Vira was formerly known as "Miranda Vacuum," "Viranda," and "Lightning 2."


Firefly is developing Elytra, a lineup of orbital transfer vehicles designed to move payloads and satellites from one orbit to another within LEO, GEO, and cislunar space. Elytra would allow smaller rockets (such as Firefly's own Alpha) to deliver larger payloads to more difficult orbits, and enable satellite relocation, servicing, mission extension, and deorbiting.

It comes in 3 versions: Elytra Dawn (the smallest, intended for LEO operations), Elytra Dusk (intended for LEO-to-geostationary transfers), and Elytra Dark (the most capable, intended for long-duration transfers to cislunar space and beyond). Elytra Dark will propel Blue Ghost Mission 2 to lunar orbit and serve as an orbiter, as well as deploy ESA's Lunar Pathfinder payload.[33]

Elytra is named after a firefly's wings and was previously known as SUV (Space Utility Vehicle).


Firefly headquarters and factory are located in Cedar Park, Texas.[39] The company has access to about 50,000 ft2 of manufacturing facilities for building composite and metallic components in-house.[40] Firefly will use leased launch sites in California (Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 2) and in Florida (SLC-20).[41][39]


Firefly Space Systems[edit]

Early growth[edit]

Firefly Space Systems began as a startup in January 2014[42] by Tom Markusic, P.J. King and Michael Blum[43] and a small group of entrepreneurs who self-funded the company. The company was named in honor of the cult hit television show Firefly. In November 2014, Firefly moved its headquarters from Hawthorne, California to Austin-suburb Cedar Park, Texas.[44][4] It grew to 43 employees by November 2014,[4] and purchased 215 acres (87 ha) of land for an engine test and manufacturing[45] facility in Briggs, Texas, 50 mi (80 km) north of Austin.[46]

In 2014, Firefly purchased fiber-winding equipment for manufacturing composite cryotanks that would be built using an out-of-autoclave process. Prototype tanks were tested at Marshall Space Flight Center of NASA in mid-2014.[46]

The Firefly Alpha design was revealed in July 2014.[42] Firefly's objective was to be cash-flow positive by 2018, based on anticipated small-satellite business.[4] Firefly had signed an agreement with Space Florida to launch from the Florida "Space Coast".

Firefly performed its first hot-fire engine test of the "Firefly Rocket Engine Research 1" (FRE-R1) on September 10, 2015.[47][48] The initial demonstration launch of the Firefly Alpha was planned to be as early as 2016.[49]

Litigation and closure[edit]

In December 2014, Tom Markusic's former employer Virgin Galactic alleged he had illegally provided Virgin intellectual property to the Alpha development team. Virgin also alleged that Markusic had "destroyed storage devices, disposed of computers, and reformatted hard drives to cover the tracks of his misappropriation of Virgin Galactic information".[50] In August 2016, an independent arbitrator confirmed that Markusic had destroyed evidence. Thereafter, a major European investor backed down, leaving Firefly without sufficient money to proceed. The company furloughed its entire staff in October 2016. According to Markusic, the investor's drawback was not related to the litigation but to Brexit.[51] Within the same month, Virgin Orbit filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Firefly and two of its officers.[52] By December 1, 2016, Firefly Space Systems had permanently ceased engineering work.[51]

In March 2017, it was announced that "virtually all" of the assets of Firefly would be sold at auction, organized by EOS Launcher, Inc., who had previously bought a US$1 million promissory note issued by Firefly to Space Florida and induced a foreclosure.[53][54]

Firefly Aerospace[edit]

After going bankrupt and being liquidated in March 2017, the company was re-created as Firefly Aerospace by Noosphere Ventures,[55] who bought out the assets of former Firefly Space Systems.[1] The owner of Noosphere Ventures, Max Polyakov,[56] committed to fully fund Firefly through at least its first two launches.[57] The plans for engine development were significantly altered by the new management, and the revised Alpha vehicle design featured a pump-fed engine[failed verification] and removed the aerospike configuration.[40] The reorganization initially delayed development by approximately a year, with the first launch expected, as of 2017, in 2019.[58]

Development of engines and structures resumed in 2017 and Firefly Aerospace performed multiple hot-fire tests of its Lightning-1 second stage engine on its existing horizontal test stand. A vertical stage test stand was nearing completion[when?] and stage testing was expected to begin in the second half of 2018.[citation needed]

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko at the opening of a Ukrainian branch.

On May 17, 2018, Firefly Aerospace opened a Research and development (R&D) center in the city of Dnipro, Ukraine.[59] The Firefly R&D center was announced to become, over time, a place of work for more than 150 employees, and is equipped with the largest 3D-printer in Ukraine, intended for industrial manufacturing of high-quality metal parts.[60]

On October 10, 2018, Firefly Aerospace and smallsat developer York Space Systems announced a partnership to offer customers a combined package of satellite and launch services.[61]

In November 2018, it was announced that NASA selected Firefly Aerospace as one of nine companies able to bid for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS),[62] where the company would propose a robotic lunar lander called Firefly Genesis.[34]

In February 2019, the company announced that it would develop manufacturing facilities and a launch site at Cape Canaveral.[63] They have leased a private launch pad in Florida — the former Space Launch Complex 20 (SLC-20) which had been used by the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s through 1996 — from the U.S. government and they also have a similar lease arrangement on the U.S. West Coast.[41]

In December 2019, a group of primary shareholders of Firefly Space Systems filed a lawsuit alleging fraud and intentional bankruptcy of the company by Tom Markusic. According to the defendants, including Polyakov, the lawsuit was provocative and the plaintiffs' claims unfounded, three years after the updated Firefly Aerospace was a significant success. The lawsuit is pending.[64]

In February 2021, NASA awarded approximately US$93.3 million to Firefly Aerospace to develop exploration technologies for Artemis Commercial Moon Delivery in 2023.[25]

Firefly launched its first test flight on September 3, 2021. The Firefly Alpha rocket experienced an anomaly during ascent, and the Range terminated the flight using the explosive Flight Termination System (FTS).[65]

In late November 2021, Maxim Polyakov received a letter from the US Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) asking Polyakov and his investment firm Noosphere Venture Partners to sell a stake in Firefly (nearly 50%) for national security reasons. Polyakov denied the threat to US national security, but agreed to comply. Noosphere Ventures has announced that it will hire an investment banking firm to sell. Even before the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the future of the Firefly R&D center in Ukraine was uncertain; after the invasion started, the Dnipro factory was bombed and many of the Ukrainian engineers either joined the army or fled the country.[66][67]

Even after Noosphere and Polyakov sold their controlling stake in the company, the US government continued to push them to sell all their remaining shares, blocking Firefly from launching their second rocket and denying them launch licenses until Polyakov was completely divested. The government did not give reasons beyond Polyakov was Ukrainian and Ukraine and Russia had once worked together on rockets.[67] Despite Polyakov's anger,[67] he agreed, and on February 24, 2022, it was announced that Polyakov and his company Noosphere would sell their stake in Firefly to AE Industrial Partners.[68]

In August 2022, Northrop Grumman announced that it had contracted Firefly Aerospace to build the Antares rocket's new 300-series' first stage, which is similar to Firefly's in-development MLV launch vehicle, and features the same composite structures as well as seven Miranda engines producing 7,200 kN (1,600,000 lbf) of thrust — substantially greater than the previous 200-series first stage. Northrop Grumman states that the new first stage substantially increases the mass capability of Antares.[19][18]

On October 1, 2022, Firefly launched the Alpha rocket on its second test flight “To the Black” from Space Launch Complex 2 from Vandenberg Space Force Base. Alpha completed all objectives (that Firefly had itself placed) for the mission, becoming the first orbital rocket to be powered by a tap-off cycle engine. The mission was the first partially successful orbital launch for Alpha, carrying educational payloads. Alpha deployed 7 satellites, however, due to the lower than intended final deployment orbit, most of the satellites re-entered approximately a week after launch.

On September 14, 2023, Firefly successfully launched the Alpha rocket on its first mission for the United States Department of Defense, placing a spacecraft for Millenium Space into orbit and demonstrating rapid response launch for the United States Armed Forces.[69]

In 2024, it was announced that Firefly would compete with the likes of Rocket Lab and SpaceX for small satellite launch contracts with the United States Department of Defense.[70]

In mid 2024, it was reported that Blue Ghost remains on track for a Q4 2024 launch.[71]

See also[edit]


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