Firefly Aerospace


Firefly Aerospace
FormerlyFirefly Space Systems
FoundedJanuary 2014; 7 years ago (2014-01)
(as Firefly Space Systems)
March 2017; 4 years ago (2017-03)
(as Firefly Aerospace)
FoundersMax Polyakov and
Tom Markusic
Key people
Tom Markusic, CEO
Number of employees
180 in the USA
160 in Ukraine[1]

Firefly Aerospace [2][3] is an American private aerospace firm based in Austin, Texas, that develops small- and medium[not verified in body]-sized launch vehicles for commercial launches to orbit. They are proponents of NewSpace: a movement in the aerospace industry whose objective is to increase access to space through innovative technical advances resulting in a reduction of launch cost and the lessening of regulations and logistical restrictions associated with dependence on national space institutions.[4]

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 Aerospace is wholly owned by Noosphere Ventures,[5][6][7] the strategic venture arm of Noosphere Global.[8][9][10] Firefly Aerospace is now working on the Alpha 2.0 launch vehicle which has a significantly larger payload capability than the previous Alpha developed by Firefly Space Systems. It aims to place a 1000 kg payload into a low Earth orbit (LEO) and 600 kg into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).[10] The restructured company had about 350 employees as of January 2021.[11][3]

Firefly Aerospace was awarded a US$93.3 million contract by NASA to deliver 10 scientific experiments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program in 2023. The Blue Ghost lunar lander will carry instruments to study several aspects of the lunar surface in preparation for future human missions to the moon.[12]


Firefly Space Systems

Early growth

Firefly Space Systems was formed in January 2014[13] by Tom Markusic, P.J. King and Michael Blum[14] and a small group of entrepreneurs who self-funded the company. In September 2014, Firefly announced it would move its headquarters from Hawthorne, California to Austin-suburb Cedar Park, Texas.[15] By November 2014, it had relocated to Texas.[4] It grew to 30 employees by August 2014 and 43 employees by November 2014.[4] Firefly had office and engineering facilities in Cedar Park, Texas and Hawthorne, California and purchased 215 acres (87 ha) of land for an engine test and manufacturing[16] facility in Briggs, Texas, 50 mi (80 km) north of Austin.[17]

Tom Markusic has a background in propulsion engineering, and has worked at other NewSpace companies including SpaceX — where he was manager of the SpaceX Texas Rocket Test Facility — and also held senior posts at Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin.[17] The company name came to Markusic while sitting on his back porch watching fireflies and realizing that in the future the sky above Earth might look like that as spacecraft ferried people to Mars.[4]

Firefly FRE-R1 engine test, September 2015

In 2014, Firefly purchased fiber-winding equipment for manufacturing composite cryotanks that will be built using an out-of-autoclave process. Prototype tanks were tested at Marshall Space Flight Center of NASA in mid-2014.[17]

The Firefly Alpha design was revealed in July 2014.[13]As of November 2014 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 their first hot-fire engine test of the "Firefly Rocket Engine Research 1" (FRE-R1) on 10 September 2015.[18][19] The initial demonstration launch of the Firefly Alpha was planned to be as early as 2016.[20]

Litigation and closure

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".[21] 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.[22] Within the same month, Virgin Orbit filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Firefly and two of its officers.[23] By 1 December 2016, Firefly Space Systems had permanently ceased engineering work.[24]

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.[25][26]

Firefly Aerospace

After going bankrupt and being liquidated in March 2017, the company was re-created as Firefly Aerospace by Noosphere Ventures,[27] who bought out the assets of former Firefly Space Systems.[2] The owner of Noosphere Ventures, Max Polyakov,[28] committed to fully fund Firefly through at least its first two launches.[29] 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.[9] The reorganization initially delayed development by approximately a year, with the first launch expected, as of 2017, in 2019.[30]

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]

On 17 May 2018, Firefly Aerospace opened a Research and development (R&D) center in the city of Dnipro, Ukraine. 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.[31]

On 10 October 2018, Firefly Aerospace and smallsat developer York Space Systems announced a partnership to offer customers a combined package of satellite and launch services.[32]

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),[33] 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.[35] 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.[36]

In February 2021, NASA awarded approximately US$93.3 million to Firefly Aerospace to develop exploration technologies for Artemis Commercial Moon Delivery in 2023.[37]

Firefly launched their first test flight on 3 September 2021. The vehicle experienced an anomaly during booster ascent and exploded mid air.[38]

Launch vehicles

The opening of a branch in Ukraine.[31] The poster shows "Alpha", "Beta" and "Gamma" models.

Firefly Alpha

The Alpha vehicle developed by Firefly Aerospace is an expendable launch vehicle with 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) payload capability to low Earth orbit and 600 kg (1,300 lb) to Sun-synchronous orbit. Projected launch cost is US$15 million per launch. Alpha is designed to compete with vehicles like the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).[10] It utilizes Reaver-1 and Lightning-1 engines and a lightweight carbon composite structure to reduce launch weight, resulting in improved payload fraction.[39]

Firefly Beta

Firefly Beta is a launch vehicle concept originally planned to consist of three Alpha cores strapped together.[40] In October 2019, Firefly announced a partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop a single core rocket potentially powered by Rocketdyne's AR1 engine.[41] In 2020, the Beta was redesigned to be a scaled up Alpha. The first stage will be 3.7 m (12 ft) diameter with 5 Reaver engines capable of delivering 8000 kg to LEO or 5800 kg to SSO inside a 4.7 m (15 ft) fairing.[42]

Firefly Gamma

Firefly Gamma is a concept of a winged rocket to launch small payloads into orbit. It would be a 2-stage rocket 75% reusable with its upper stage landing horizontally at a runway. Its first test flights are expected to start in 2024 or 2025.[43][44]

Lunar landers

Genesis lunar lander

On 9 June 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.[45][46][47] Genesis was proposed for NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) to deliver payloads to the surface of the Moon.[45][46] If selected, Firefly Genesis would have been launched on a Firefly Beta rocket,[46] or a Falcon 9 rocket[47] in late 2022.[48] 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.[49]

Blue Ghost lunar lander

Blue Ghost
ManufacturerFirefly Aerospace
DesignerFirefly Aerospace
Country of originUnited States
OperatorFirefly Aerospace
ApplicationsLunar payloads delivery
Spacecraft typeLander
Payload capacity150 kg (330 lb)[50]
StatusIn development
Maiden launchMid 2023 (planned)
← Artemis-7 lander VIPER

Blue Ghost is a lunar lander designed internally at Firefly to meet NASA's updated requirements for a CLPS lunar lander. The lander is named after the rare Phausis reticulata (Latin for Blue Ghost) firefly.[51]

On 4 February 2021, NASA awarded a CLPS contract worth US$93.3 million to Firefly Aerospace to deliver a suite of 10 science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023. The award is part of the NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, in which NASA is securing the service of commercial partners to quickly land science and technology payloads on the lunar surface. The initiative is a key part of NASA's Artemis program.

Firefly Aerospace will be responsible for end-to-end delivery services, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon, and mission operations. This is the sixth award for lunar surface delivery under the CLPS initiative. This is the first delivery awarded to Firefly Aerospace, which will provide the lunar delivery service using its Blue Ghost lander, which the company designed and developed at its Cedar Park facility. This facility also will house the integration of NASA and any non-NASA payloads, and also will serve as the company's mission operations center for the 2023 delivery. Mare Crisium, where Firefly Aerospace's Blue Ghost will land, is a more than 500-km-wide basin where 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.[52]

The payloads, collectively expected to total 94 kg (207 lb) in mass, include:[52]

  • 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 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.

These payloads will fly on the Blue Ghost lunar lander to Mare Crisium for a two week mission. Such investigations will help prepare for human missions to the lunar surface.[49]

On 20 May 2021, Firefly selected SpaceX's Falcon 9 as the launch vehicle for the first mission, as their own Alpha rocket does not have the performance or payload volume needed to launch Blue Ghost.[53] Firefly's future Beta launch vehicle is expected to support future Blue Ghost missions.[54]


Firefly headquarters and factory are located in Cedar Park, Texas.[55] The company has access to about 50,000ft2 of manufacturing facilities for building composite and metallic components in-house.[9] Firefly will use leased launch sites in California (Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 2) and in Florida (SLC-20).[36][55]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "Once Grounded by Bankruptcy, Firefly Aerospace Appears Ready to Re-Launch". Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  3. ^ a b "Staring at Firefly Aerospace's hot rocket-engine flames in a Texas pasture". 3 April 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e Hutchinson, Lee (30 November 2014). "Firefly Space Systems charges full-speed toward low Earth orbit". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 3 December 2014. Retrieved 1 December 2014.
  5. ^ "Noosphere Ventures USA, Inc.: Private Company Information". Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  6. ^ "Noosphere Ventures | Technology Knowledge Humanity". Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  7. ^ "Ukrainian Entrepreneur Ventures From Online Dating to Space". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  8. ^ "Noosphere Global Asset Management".
  9. ^ a b c "Firefly Re-Emerges With Upgraded Alpha Rocket Design | Aviation Week Network". Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  10. ^ a b c "Firefly Alpha". Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  11. ^ "Firefly Space Social Media comment on new company direction". Firefly Space. Retrieved 21 September 2017 – via Facebook.
  12. ^ Mathewson, Samantha (5 February 2021). "NASA picks Firefly Aerospace to deliver science payloads to the moon in 2023". Retrieved 5 February 2021.
  13. ^ a b Aron, Jacob (8 July 2014). "Next generation of space cowboys get ready to fly". New Scientist. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  14. ^ Spacevidcast (now TMRO -- see new channel) (24 August 2014). "Firefly Space - 7.26" – via YouTube.
  15. ^ "Hawthorne-based rocket company to move to Texas". Daily Breeze. 14 September 2014. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  16. ^ Episode 15: DOWNLINK--Firefly Space Systems — Interview. The Orbital Mechanics. 23 June 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  17. ^ a b c Morring, Frank, Jr. (25 August 2014). "SpaceX Alum Goes After Falcon 1 Market With Firefly". Aviation Week. Archived from the original on 3 December 2014. Retrieved 17 October 2014.
  18. ^ First Rocket Engine Test a Success for Firefly Space Systems Archived 26 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine, press release, 10 September 2015, accessed 17 December 2015
  19. ^ Wall, Mike (10 September 2015). "New Firefly Rocket Engine Passes Big Test, Will Launch Small Satellites". Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  20. ^ New Alpha rocket will launch test flights from KSC Florida Today, 15 October 2015, accessed 17 December 2015
  21. ^ Messier, Doug (12 January 2016). "Former Propulsion Chief Accuses Virgin Galactic of Lying About SpaceShipTwo's Safety, Performance". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  22. ^ Foust, Jeff (3 October 2016). "Firefly Space Systems furloughs staff after investor backs out". SpaceNews. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  23. ^ Messier, Doug (25 October 2016). "Virgin Galactic Sues Firefly, Officers for Alleged Misappropriation of Trade Secrets". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  24. ^ ""Was a good place while it lasted"".
  25. ^ "Firefly Space Systems assets to be sold". SpaceNews. 15 March 2017. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  26. ^ Messier, Doug (5 June 2017). "Celebrate Independence Day by Buying a Rocket Test Facility". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 13 May 2019.
  27. ^ "Max Polyakov | Noosphere Ventures". Retrieved 12 July 2020.
  28. ^ "Max Polyakov |". Retrieved 12 July 2020.
  29. ^ Berger, Eric (11 February 2019). "After a remarkable resurrection, Firefly may reach space in 2019". Ars Technica. Retrieved 11 February 2019.
  30. ^ "The Major Airspace News Of 2017, Including Max Polyakov's Firefly Aerospace". Mighty Gadget. 3 November 2017. Retrieved 22 May 2021.
  31. ^ a b "Firefly Aerospace Opens Research and Development Center in Dnipro, Ukraine - Firefly Aerospace".
  32. ^ Firefly Aerospace and York Space Systems partner to provide integrated satellite solutions[dead link] Jeff Foust, SpaceNews 10 October 2018
  33. ^ Daines, Gary (29 November 2018). "Firefly Aerospace Concept for Launch Vehicle with Moon Lander". NASA. Retrieved 29 January 2019. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  34. ^ Firefly to partner with IAI on lunar lander Jeff Foust, SpaceNews 9 July 2019
  35. ^ Berger, Eric (22 February 2019). "Firefly planning a major rocket assembly and launch facility in Florida". Ars Technica.
  36. ^ a b Resurrected Firefly Aerospace will take over a launch site at busy Florida spaceport 22 February 2019
  37. ^ "NASA Selects Firefly Aerospace for Artemis Commercial Moon Delivery in 2023". NASA. 4 February 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  38. ^ Foust, Jeff (2 September 2021). "Firefly Alpha explodes during first launch". SpaceNews. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  39. ^ "Alpha Payload User's Guide". 3 April 2018.
  40. ^ Clark, Stephen (2 May 2018). "Firefly's commercial satellite launcher to use Delta 2 pad at Vandenberg". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  41. ^ Clark, Stephen (28 October 2019). "Aerojet Rocketdyne, Firefly to collaborate on propulsion". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  42. ^ "Launch-beta". Firefly Aerospace. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  43. ^ Firefly partners with Aerojet Rocketdyne, mulls AR1 engine for Beta launch vehicle. Caleb Henry, SpaceNews, 18 October 2019
  44. ^ Firefly Gamma, Firefly Aerospace, Accessed on 30 November 2019
  45. ^ a b Firefly to partner with IAI on lunar lander, Jeff Foust, SpaceNews 9 July 2019
  46. ^ a b c Israel's failed lunar lander will live on in the design of Firefly Aerospace's new Moon spacecraft Loren Grush, The Verge 9 July 2019
  47. ^ a b Firefly Genesis Firefly Aerospace Accessed on 13 September 2019
  48. ^ "In parallel with rocket development, Firefly launches lunar lander initiative". Spaceflight Now. 1 April 2020. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  49. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (4 February 2021). "Firefly wins NASA CLPS lunar lander contract". SpaceNews. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  50. ^
  51. ^
  52. ^ a b "NASA Selects Firefly Aerospace for Artemis Commercial Moon Delivery in 2023". NASA. 4 February 2021. Retrieved 5 March 2021. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  53. ^ "Firefly selects SpaceX to launch its lunar lander". SpaceNews. 20 May 2021. Retrieved 22 May 2021.
  54. ^ Firefly Aerospace [@firefly_space] (20 May 2021). "Alpha rocket does not have the performance or payload volume needed to launch Blue Ghost - F9 does. Our future Beta launch vehicle will support Blue Ghost launch" (Tweet). Retrieved 20 May 2021 – via Twitter.
  55. ^ a b FOX. "Austin-area aerospace company selected by NASA for Commercial Lunar Payload Services Contract". KTBC. Retrieved 29 January 2019.

External links

  • Official website
  • Firefly Space Systems, overview video, October 2015.
  • Profile|Thomas Markusic, Founder and Chief Executive, Firefly Space Systems, by Dan Leone, 13 October 2014,