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Firefly Opens First Alpha Rocket Launch to Academic and Educational Payloads

Firefly fired a full-length fire from the second stage of its rocket in April 2019.
Enlarge / Firefly fired a full-length fire from the second stage of its rocket in April 2019.

Edwards Media

One of the issues facing any business when it launches a new rocket on the market is what needs to be highlighted. After all, things can sometimes go wrong explode with inaugural flights. Thus, the first flight of a rocket usually serves as a demonstration mission, which allows to prove by a real test flight that all the modeling work and ground tests of a company were correct . SpaceX put Elon Musk's red Cherry Tesla Roadster on the first flight of the Falcon Heavy rocket.

Despite a payload sometimes fanciful, the first flights demonstrate a number of capabilities to potential customers. (In the case of the Falcon Heavy, the upper stage of the rocket flew six hours into space before relighting its upper stage engine to demonstrate its ability to directly inject key satellites into the geostationary space for the first time. US Army).

The Firefly rocket company based in Austin, Texas, approaching the first flight of its Alpha rocket, she is also facing such a payload decision. It has a client (undisclosed) for the flight, but the smallsat launcher also has unused capacity for the mission – the Alpha rocket has about twice as much lift as an existing competitor, the Rocket Lab Electron vehicle.

Then on Monday, Firefly announced that it would accept free academic and educational payloads on Alpha Flight. "We wanted to do something like this on our first flight since the beginning," Markusic said. The payloads will fly in a circular orbit of 300 km, with a tilt of 97 degrees.

Space for all

This initiative is part of Firefly's efforts to make space more affordable for everyone, said company founder Tom Markusic in an interview with Ars. As part of this DREAM program – this is a dedicated mission to accelerate research and education – the company will accept everything from children's drawings to academic experiences, or even CubeSat solutions from companies in start-up. Applications will be accepted until the end of June 2019.

By co-demonstrating a commercial customer with several other private payloads, Firefly will be able to demonstrate a "carpooling" capability to the missions from the very beginning, said Markusic. This would allow several business customers to fly on mission in the future.

Markusic also provided an update on the development of Alpha. In April, the company conducted a comprehensive test of the integrated second stage of the rocket. A configuration of this second stage resembling 97% flight will be tested by the end of June. The company is also working on complete tests of the Reaver 1 reactors that will feed the first stage of the Alpha rocket, and the integrated stage tests are expected to begin at the end of August or early September.

He admitted that the December launch of Vandeberg Air Force Base in California was aggressive and that to do so, the company had to meet a tight schedule of milestones. Objectively, a launch in December is feasible. Historically, however, Markusic has stated that he realizes that problems often occur during step testing and other activities that may delay launch dates.

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