Firefly to conduct a second test launch of the Alpha rocket

Firefly Aerospace is preparing for the second test launch of the Alpha rocket after the first unsuccessful attempt in September 2021. The new launch will take place in the coming weeks, reports.

What happened

  • On September 3, 2021, at 4:59 am Kyiv time, the Alpha rocket launched, reached supersonic speed, and a few minutes later, the mission was aborted. According to Firefly Aerospace, the rocket had failed because one of its first-stage engines shut down seconds after liftoff.
  • In May of this year, the company reported that the rocket’s two stages were shipped from the test and manufacturing facilities to the launch site.
  • Now the rocket has undergone minor upgrades related to reducing the level of vibration from the engines.
  • According to the publication CNBC, Firefly Aerospace aims to make its second attempt to reach orbit with its Alpha rocket in the coming weeks.

Firefly Aerospace is no longer a Ukrainian company

Firefly Aerospace was formerly co-owned by the Ukrainian entrepreneur Max Polyakov. On February 17, 2022, he announced on his Facebook that he would transfer his share of Firefly Aerospace for $1 to another company’s co-founder Thomas Markusic. The reason for the transfer was a requirement of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), in other words, regulatory pressure. During the five years of operation, the company was repeatedly awarded contracts from the US government (1 / 2 / 3 ) and passed all the necessary security checks. But according to Bloomberg, while Ukraine is a US ally, its ongoing conflict with Russia has exacerbated concerns about what might happen to valuable technology inside the country.

According to Polyakov, he owned 58% of the company. Nevertheless, Alpha is still the rocket that Ukrainian engineers had a hand in, and that would not have existed without the Ukrainian team.

Some facts about the rocket:

  • The company has been working on the Alpha rocket since 2014; it belongs to the small-lift launch vehicles.
  • After Max Polyakov relaunched Firefly Aerospace in 2017, they made technical changes to its design, increasing its payload capacity from 400 to 1,000 kg. (For delivery to the Low Earth Orbit, at 200 km altitude; it can also deliver up to 630 kg to the Sun-Synchronous Orbit, at 500 km altitude).
  • Alpha is one of the largest small-lift rockets. Its length is 29 m (like a 9-floor building), 1.8 m in diameter, its payload fairing is 2 m in diameter.
  • It is made of composite materials and has 4x Reaver-1 engines (Stage 1) and 1x Lightning 1 engine (Stage 2).
  • Stage 2 has NASA’s experimental Spinnaker-3 drag sail to speed up the stage’s descent from orbit.
Image: Firefly