|Country of origin||United States|
|Cost per launch||US$15 million|
|Height||29 m (95 ft)|
|Diameter||1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)|
|Mass||54,000 kg (119,000 lb)|
|Payload to low Earth orbit|
|Mass||1,000 kg (2,200 lb) |
|Payload to Sun-synchronous orbit|
|Mass||630 kg (1,390 lb)|
|Launch sites||Vandenberg SLC-2W, Cape Canaveral SLC-20|
|First flight||3 September 2021 |
|Diameter||1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)|
|Powered by||4 × Reaver 1|
|Maximum thrust||736.1 kN (165,500 lbf)|
|Specific impulse||295.6 s (2.899 km/s)|
|Propellant||RP-1 / LOX|
|Diameter||1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)|
|Powered by||1 × Lightning 1|
|Maximum thrust||70.1 kN (15,800 lbf)|
|Specific impulse||322.0 s (3.158 km/s)|
|Propellant||RP-1 / LOX|
Firefly Alpha (Firefly α) is a two-stage orbital expendable launch vehicle developed by the American aerospace company Firefly Aerospace to compete in the commercial small satellite launch market. Alpha is intended to provide launch options for both full vehicle and ride share customers.
The first test flight launch was on 3 September 2021 at approximately 01:59 UTC, from a leased pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. An anomaly occurred between two and three minutes after liftoff, resulting in complete loss of the vehicle.
Alpha was initially designed with a first stage powered by an FRE-2 engine, which consisted of twelve nozzles arranged in an aerospike configuration. The engine used methane, as opposed to RP-1. The second stage was to be propelled by the FRE-1 engine, which used a conventional bell nozzle. It was intended to launch 400 kg to low Earth orbit.
After the March 2017 Firefly bankruptcy and corporate reorganization, Alpha was redesigned. The vehicle now uses two stages, both 1.8 m in diameter, filled with RP-1/LOX propellant. The main body of the rocket is constructed using a lightweight carbon composite material.
Alpha's first stage is powered by four Reaver 1 LOX / RP-1 tap-off cycle engines, delivering 736.1 kN (165,500 lbf) of thrust. The second stage is powered by one Lightning 1 LOX / RP-1 engine, delivering 70.1 kN (15,800 lbf) of thrust. Lightning 1 was test-run for nearly 5 minutes on 15 March 2018 during a long duration test fire. The engine was fired at Firefly's Test Stand 1 in Briggs, Texas.
The Alpha airframe uses all carbon-fiber composite material in its construction. Using carbon-fiber makes the rocket more fuel efficient because the use of denser materials like titanium and aluminum would result in a heavier airframe, which would require more fuel to launch.
Alpha is designed to launch a 1000 kg payload to a 200 km low Earth orbit, or a 630 kg payload to a 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit, suitable for CubeSats and other small payloads. Primary payloads can be integrated by themselves or with a secondary payload, with capacity for up to 6 CubeSats. This allows Firefly's customers to have a dedicated small-satellite launcher, reducing the issues of ride-sharing payloads and secondary payloads. These smaller satellites can have an orbit that is not determined by a larger payload and can launch on their own schedule instead of waiting on the readiness of all other payloads.
In 2015, NASA's Launch Services Program awarded Firefly Aerospace a US$5.5 million Venture Class Launch Services contract to develop Alpha to enable easier access to the small satellite market.
Firefly Aerospace plans to use a Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) to integrate payloads.
Alpha is also intended to be a direct American competitor in the small satellite market to India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), as the company believes that PLSV's ride-share capability threatens U.S. domestic launchers in this market.
Firefly Aerospace plans to use Vandenberg SLC-2W to support Firefly Alpha and Beta launches; this launch pad formerly supported Delta, Thor-Agena, and Delta II launch vehicles launches. Additionally, Firefly plans to use Cape Canaveral SLC-20.
The first launch of Alpha happened on 3 September 2021 at 01:59 UTC., from a leased pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and was to fly southwest over the Pacific Ocean. An anomaly occurred between two and three minutes after liftoff, resulting in complete loss of the vehicle.
|Date and time, UTC||Rocket,
|3 September 2021
|Firefly Alpha / SUV||Vandenberg SLC-2W||BSS1, Firefly Capsule 1, PICOBUS (deploying six PocketQubes), Hiapo, Spinnaker3, and TIS Serenity||300 km circular, 137° inclination ||Benchmark Space, Firefly, Libre Space Foundation, Fossa Systems, AMSAT-EA, Hawaii Science and Technology Museum, Purdue University, Teachers in Space, Inc., and others.||Failure|
|Maiden flight of the Firefly Alpha; carrying various payloads as part of their DREAM mission. Firefly's experimental Space Utility Vehicle (SUV) third stage was also onboard this flight. Due to an engine failure approximately 15 seconds after the launch, the rocket lost control at trans-sonic speeds approximately two and a half minutes after launch that resulted in the activation of the flight termination system and loss of the vehicle.|
|11 September 2022||Firefly Alpha||Vandenberg SLC-2W||Educational payloads||TBA|
|Second orbital launch attempt, carrying more deployable educational payloads.|
|November 2022||Firefly Alpha||Vandenberg SLC-2W||TBA||NASA|
|NASA Venture Class Launch Services 2 (VCLS 2) Mission Two, officially known as VCLS Demo-2FB. The ELaNa 43 mission, consisting of 11 CubeSats, will launch on this flight.|
|2023||Firefly Alpha||Vandenberg SLC-2W||OTB-2 / MAIA||GA-EMS / JPL|
|Orbital Test Bed 2 (OTB-2) hosts the MAIA instrument for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.|
|2023||Firefly Alpha||Vandenberg SLC-2W||Dedicated rideshare mission||Spaceflight, Inc.|
|Dedicated smallsat rideshare mission to low Earth orbit.|
|2023||Firefly Alpha||Vandenberg SLC-2W||Satlantis EO Constellation||Satlantis|
|Satlantis earth observation satellite constellation.|
|2023||Firefly Alpha||Vandenberg SLC-2W||EOS SAR 1||EOS Data Analytics|
|First EOS SAR radar constellation satellite.|
|Early 2024||Firefly Beta||Vandenberg SLC-2W||TBA||TBA|
|Maiden flight of the Firefly Beta|
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