Firefly Alpha


Firefly Alpha
Firefly Alpha Diagram.svg
FunctionSmall-satellite launch vehicle
ManufacturerFirefly Aerospace
Country of originUnited States
Cost per launch$15 million
Height29 m (95 ft)
Diameter1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
Mass54,000 kg (119,000 lb)
Payload to LEO
Mass1000 kg [1]
Payload to SSO
Mass600 kg
Launch history
StatusIn development
Launch sitesVandenberg Air Force Base SLC-2W[2][3] Cape Canaveral Air Force Station SLC-20[4]
First flightOctober 2020 (planned)[5]
First stage
Diameter1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
Engines4 × Reaver 1
Thrust736.1 kN (165,500 lbf)
Specific impulse295.6 seconds (2.899 km/s)
FuelRP-1 / LOX
Second stage
Diameter1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
Engines1 × Lightning 1
Thrust70.1 kN (15,800 lbf)
Specific impulse322.0 seconds (3.158 km/s)
FuelRP-1 / LOX

Firefly Alpha (Firefly α) is a two-stage orbital expendable launch vehicle developed by the American aerospace company Firefly Aerospace to cover the commercial small satellite launch market. Alpha is intended to provide launch options for both full vehicle and ride share customers.[1]


Alpha was initially designed with a first stage powered by an FRE-2 engine, which consisted of twelve nozzles arranged in an aerospike configuration.[6][7] 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.[8][9]

After Firefly's 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.[3]

Alpha's first stage is powered by four Reaver 1 LOX / RP-1 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 March 15, 2018 during a long duration test fire. The engine was fired at Firefly's Test Stand 1 in Briggs, Texas.[10][11]

The Alpha airframe uses all carbon-fiber composite material in its construction. Use of denser materials like titanium and aluminum results in a heavier airframe which requires more fuel to launch, making the carbon-fiber body more fuel efficient.[10]

In March 2018, Firefly said that the development of Alpha was expected to cost approximately $100 million.[10] The company is also developing a future rocket, Firefly Beta, which initially consisted of three Alpha cores strapped together.[2] However, in October 2019, Firefly announced in partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne, that it will now be a single core rocket powered by Rocketdyne's AR1 engine.[12]

Intended usage

Alpha is designed to launch a 1,000 kg payload to a 200 km low Earth orbit, or a 600 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.[1][3] 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 $5.5 million Venture Class Launch Services contract to develop Alpha to enable easier access to the small satellite market.[13][14]

Firefly Aerospace plans to use a Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) to integrate payloads.[3]

Alpha is also intended to be a direct American competitor in the small satellite market to India's PSLV, as they believe its ride-share capability in the market threatens US domestic launchers.[15]

Launch sites

As of 2018 Firefly Aerospace plans to use Vandenberg Air Force Base SLC-2W to support the launches of both Alpha and future launches of Beta, which formerly launched Delta and Thor-Agena rockets, and formerly launches Delta II rockets.[2] Additionally they are planning on operating at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station SLC-20.[4]

The first launch of Alpha is scheduled for November 2020, and Firefly aims to have production capacity to support the launch of two Alpha vehicles per month by the first quarter of 2021.[16][3]

Planned launches

Date / time (UTC) Rocket,
Launch site Payload Orbit Customer
Late November 2020[17][18] Firefly Alpha Vandenberg SLC-2W BSS1, CRESST DREAM COMET, Firefly Capsule 1, PICOBUS (deploying six PocketQubes), Hiapo, NPS-CENETIX-Orbital 1, Spinnaker3, and TIS Serenity[19][20] 300 km circular, 97° inclination[21] Benchmark Space, University of Cambridge, Firefly, Fossa Systems, Hawaii Science and Technology Museum, AT&T/NPS, Purdue University, Teachers in Space, Inc., and others.
Maiden flight of the Firefly Alpha; will carry various payloads as part of their DREAM mission.[21]
Q1 2021[22][9] Firefly Alpha Vandenberg SLC-2W Carbonite 4
Carbonite is an Earth observation microsatellite (~100 kg) technology demonstrator.
Q2 2021[22] Firefly Alpha Vandenberg SLC-2W TBA
Q4 2021[5] Firefly Beta Vandenberg SLC-2W TBA TBA
Maiden flight of the Firefly Beta

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Firefly Alpha". Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2018-03-30.
  2. ^ a b c Clark, Stephen (2 May 2018). "Firefly's commercial satellite launcher to use Delta 2 pad at Vandenberg". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 3 May 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Firefly Alpha Payload User's Guide" (PDF). Retrieved 18 November 2019.
  4. ^ a b Grush, Loren (22 February 2019). "Resurrected Firefly Aerospace will take over a launch site at busy Florida spaceport". The Verge. Retrieved 26 August 2020.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  5. ^ a b Pietrobon, Steven (October 29, 2019). "United States Commercial ELV Launch Manifest". Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  6. ^ Henry, Caleb (29 September 2016). "Firefly Alpha Rocket Combustor Completes Full Mission Duty Cycle Test". Satellite Today. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  7. ^ Szondy, David (13 July 2014). "Firefly Space Systems unveils Alpha launch vehicle design with aerospike engine". New Atlas. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  8. ^ Werner, Debra (23 November 2015). "Firefly Aims To Build the 'Model T of Rockets'". Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  9. ^ a b Krebs, Gunter. "Firefly". Gunter’s Space Web. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  10. ^ a b c Richardson, Derek (March 17, 2018). "Firefly Aerospace demos its Lightning 1 engine". Spaceflight Insider. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  11. ^ Nojas, Charmagne (March 18, 2018). "Firefly Aerospace Makes A Comeback With Lightning 1 Engine Demo In Texas". TechTimes. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  12. ^ Clark, Stephen (28 October 2019). "Aerojet Rocketdyne, Firefly to collaborate on propulsion". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 28 October 2019.
  13. ^ Wistrom, Brent (October 14, 2015). "This Cedar Park Rocket Company Just Nabbed a $5.5 Million NASA Contract". AustinInno. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  14. ^ NASA (14 October 2015). "NASA Awards Venture Class Launch Services Contracts for CubeSat Satellites". Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  15. ^ Foust, Jeff (21 August 2017). "Small rockets, new and renewed". The Space Review. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  16. ^ Mattis, Nathan (17 March 2018). "Staring at Firefly Aerospace's hot rocket-engine flames in a Texas pasture". Ars Technica. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  17. ^ "Firefly Aerospace OET Special Temporary Authority Report". FCC. 25 August 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  18. ^ Rainbow, Jason (25 June 2020). "Firefly Aerospace is connecting the dots to fly above smallsat launch challenges". Connectivity Business. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
  19. ^ "Firefly Alpha First Launch Payloads" (PDF). Firefly Aerospace. NESDIS, NOAA. 3 January 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  20. ^ "TIS Serenity Publicly-Releasable Summary of Licensed System" (PDF). Teachers in Space, Inc. NESDIS, NOAA. 19 March 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  21. ^ a b Berger, Eric (17 June 2019). "Firefly opens first Alpha rocket launch to academic and educational payloads". Ars Technica. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  22. ^ a b Howell, Elizabeth (11 August 2020). "Firefly aims to debut its Alpha rocket for small satellites this fall". Retrieved 9 September 2020. The second and third Alpha rockets are already under construction for their missions in 2021. The nominal mission sequence calls for each of the first three rockets to fly about three months after its immediate predecessor.