Firefly Alpha
Firefly Alpha Diagram.svg
ManufacturerFirefly Aerospace
Country of originUnited States
Cost per launchUS$15 million
Height29 m (95 ft)
Diameter1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
Mass54,000 kg (119,000 lb)
Payload to low Earth orbit
Mass1,000 kg (2,200 lb) [1]
Payload to Sun-synchronous orbit
Mass630 kg (1,390 lb)
Launch history
Launch sitesVandenberg SLC-2W,[2][3] Cape Canaveral SLC-20[4]
Total launches1
Partial failure(s)0
First flight3 September 2021 [5]
First stage
Diameter1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
Powered by4 × Reaver 1
Maximum thrust736.1 kN (165,500 lbf)
Specific impulse295.6 s (2.899 km/s)
PropellantRP-1 / LOX
Second stage
Diameter1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
Powered by1 × Lightning 1
Maximum thrust70.1 kN (15,800 lbf)
Specific impulse322.0 s (3.158 km/s)
PropellantRP-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.[1]

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.[6]


Alpha was initially designed with a first stage powered by an FRE-2 engine, which consisted of twelve nozzles arranged in an aerospike configuration.[7][8] 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.[9][10]

After the March 2017 Firefly bankruptcy and corporate reorganization,[11] 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 tap-off cycle engines,[12] 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.[13][14]

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.[13]

In March 2018, Firefly said that the development of Alpha was expected to cost approximately US$100 million.[13]

Intended usage

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.[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 US$5.5 million Venture Class Launch Services contract to develop Alpha to enable easier access to the small satellite market.[15][16]

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 Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), as the company believes that PLSV's ride-share capability threatens U.S. domestic launchers in this market.[17]

Launch sites

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.[2] Additionally, Firefly plans to use Cape Canaveral SLC-20.[4]

The first launch of Alpha happened on 3 September 2021 at 01:59 UTC.,[5][18] 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.[6]

Launch history

Date and time, UTC Rocket,
Launch site Payload Orbit Customer Outcome
3 September 2021
Firefly Alpha / SUV Vandenberg SLC-2W BSS1, Firefly Capsule 1, PICOBUS[20] (deploying six PocketQubes), Hiapo, Spinnaker3, and TIS Serenity[21][22] LEO (300 km circular, 137° inclination)[23] Benchmark Space, Firefly, Libre Space Foundation, Fossa Systems, AMSAT-EA, Hawaii Science and Technology Museum, Purdue University, Teachers in Space, Inc., and others. Failure[24]
Maiden flight of the Firefly Alpha; carrying various payloads as part of their DREAM mission.[23] 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.[6]
NET 29 September 2022[25] Firefly Alpha Vandenberg SLC-2W TechEdSat-15 (TES-15), TIS Serenity, PicoBus (deploying five PocketQubes) LEO (300 km circular, 137° inclination) NASA Ames, SJSU, Teachers in Space, Inc., Libre Space Foundation, Fossa Systems, AMSAT-EA
"To The Black". Second orbital launch attempt, carrying more deployable educational payloads.[26]
29 November 2022[27] 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.[28][29]
2023[30][31] 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[30][32] Firefly Alpha Vandenberg SLC-2W Dedicated rideshare mission Spaceflight, Inc.
Dedicated smallsat rideshare mission to low Earth orbit.
2023[30][33] Firefly Alpha Vandenberg SLC-2W Satlantis EO Constellation Satlantis
Satlantis earth observation satellite constellation.
2023[34][35] Firefly Alpha Vandenberg SLC-2W EOS SAR 1 EOS Data Analytics
First EOS SAR radar constellation satellite.
Early 2024[36] 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 6 October 2014. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b 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 "Firefly Alpha Payload User's Guide" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 September 2019. 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.
  5. ^ a b c Kordina, Florian (27 August 2021). "FLTA001 DREAM | Alpha". Everyday Astronaut. Retrieved 28 August 2021.
  6. ^ a b c "Firefly's Alpha rocket explodes on inaugural test launch". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  7. ^ Henry, Caleb (29 September 2016). "Firefly Alpha Rocket Combustor Completes Full Mission Duty Cycle Test". Satellite Today. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  8. ^ Szondy, David (13 July 2014). "Firefly Space Systems unveils Alpha launch vehicle design with aerospike engine". New Atlas. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  9. ^ Werner, Debra (23 November 2015). "Firefly Aims To Build the "Model T of Rockets"". Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  10. ^ Krebs, Gunter. "Firefly". Gunter's Space Web. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  11. ^ "Firefly Space Systems assets to be sold". SpaceNews. 15 March 2017. Retrieved 15 March 2017.
  12. ^ Firefly Alpha-FLT001 livecast, Everyday Astronaut, 2 September 2021.
  13. ^ a b c Richardson, Derek (17 March 2018). "Firefly Aerospace demos its Lightning 1 engine". Spaceflight Insider. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  14. ^ Nojas, Charmagne (18 March 2018). "Firefly Aerospace Makes A Comeback With Lightning 1 Engine Demo In Texas". TechTimes. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  15. ^ Wistrom, Brent (14 October 2015). "This Cedar Park Rocket Company Just Nabbed a US$5.5 Million NASA Contract". AustinInno. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  16. ^ "NASA Awards Venture Class Launch Services Contracts for CubeSat Satellites". NASA. 14 October 2015. Retrieved 31 March 2018. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  17. ^ Foust, Jeff (21 August 2017). "Small rockets, new and renewed". The Space Review. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  18. ^ Foust, Jeff (24 August 2021). "Firefly Aerospace's Alpha rocket ready for first launch". SpaceNews. Retrieved 28 August 2021.
  19. ^ Neal, Mihir (2 September 2021). "Firefly Aerospace's maiden flight of Alpha launch vehicle ends in failure". NASASpaceFlight. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  20. ^ "PICOBUS". Libre Space Foundation. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  21. ^ "Firefly Alpha First Launch Payloads" (PDF). Firefly Aerospace. NOAA. 3 January 2020. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 June 2021. Retrieved 9 September 2020. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  22. ^ "TIS Serenity Publicly-Releasable Summary of Licensed System" (PDF). Teachers in Space, Inc. NOAA. 19 March 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  23. ^ a b Berger, Eric (17 June 2019). "Firefly opens first Alpha rocket launch to academic and educational payloads". Ars Technica. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  24. ^ Foust, Jeff (2 September 2021). "Firefly Alpha explodes during first launch". SpaceNews. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  25. ^ Firefly Aerospace [@Firefly_Space] (16 September 2022). "Launch Update: We have received a weather update surrounding the storms off the west coast of the US that is causing a delay to our launch window. Working with @SLDelta30 to reschedule. New launch window is now no earlier than September 29th. Alpha stands ready to launch" (Tweet). Retrieved 16 September 2022 – via Twitter.
  26. ^ "FLTA002 - Alpha Flight 2 - To The Black". Firefly Aerospace. 22 August 2022. Retrieved 22 August 2022.
  27. ^ "Vandenberg SFB Launch Schedule". Space Archive. 16 September 2022. Retrieved 18 September 2022.
  28. ^ Higginbotham, Scott (9 August 2021). "CubeSat Launch Initiative – Upcoming Flights" (PDF). NASA. p. 3. Retrieved 22 September 2021.
  29. ^ Foust, Jeff (12 December 2020). "Three companies win NASA small launch contracts". SpaceNews. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  30. ^ a b c Foust, Jeff (17 July 2022). "Firefly gears up for second Alpha launch". SpaceNews. Retrieved 18 July 2022.
  31. ^ Baylor, Michael. "Firefly Alpha - MAIA". Next Spaceflight. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  32. ^ baylorm, Michael. "Firefly Alpha - Spaceflight Industries Rideshare". Next Spaceflight. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  33. ^ Etherington, Darrell (4 February 2020). "Rocket startup Firefly signs satellite constellation launch mission with Satlantis". TechCrunch. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  34. ^ "Technology – EOSSAR". EOS Data Analytics. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  35. ^ Werner, Debra (22 October 2019). "Noosphere Venture campaign begins coming together with radar constellation". SpaceNews. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  36. ^ Foust, Jeff (27 January 2021). "Firefly Aerospace seeking to raise US$350 million". SpaceNews. Retrieved 4 February 2021.