Firefly Alpha Data Sheet – Space Launch Report  

Firefly Alpha Data Sheet

Alpha Stage 1 for Acceptance Testing, August, 2020

alpha-s1

Company History

Firefly Aerospace, a Ukrainian-owned, US-headquartered company, was created from the remains of bankrupt Firefly Space Systems in 2017. Ukraine’s Max Polyakov bought the assets of the prior company. Tom Markusic retained the CEO position. The company is headquartered in Cedar Park, Texas near Austin. It has a test and production site in Briggs, Texas and plans for a production facility on Merritt Island, Florida. A research and development arm in Dnipro, Ukraine is expected to employ as many workers as the Texas operations. Ukraine’s Yuzhmash serves as a subcontractor for Firefly Aerospace, producing combustion chambers, turbopumps, and controllers.

The company developed a two-stage, 54 tonne kerosene/LOX rocket named Alpha, designed to lift 630 kg to a 500 km sun synchronous orbit from Vandenberg AFB, California, or 1,000 kg to a 200 km x 28 deg orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Alpha will fly first from SLC 2W at Vandenberg AFB, with plans for future flights from SLC 20 at the Cape.

The all-carbon-composite structure vehicle is 1.8 meters diameter, with a 2 meter diameter payload fairing. It stands 29 meters in height. The first stage is powered by four Reaver engines producing 165,459 lbf thrust in vacuum at 295.6 sec vacuum specific impulse. The stage weighs 2,895 kg dry. It will fire for the first 165 seconds of flight.

The second stage is powered by a single Lightning 1 engine producting 15,737 lbf thrust at 322 sec specific impulse, both in vacuum. The stage weighs 910 kg. It will perform a 316 second burn during direct ascent missions.

Both Reaver and Lightning are combustion tap-off cycle turbopump engines, started with a spin-start system.  Heated helium pressurizes the propellant tanks.

The clamshell two-piece payload fairing is five meters tall.

alpha-s1r

Testing

Four Reaver Engines at Base of Stage 1

Alpha second stage Qualication testing began during 2018 at Test Stand 2 in Briggs. The stage achieved a 300 second test on April 26, 2019. By March, 2019, horizontal Test Stand 1 had been retrofitted with a first stage thrust structure to be fitted with four Reaver engines for a series of step-by-step firings. On January 3, 2020, a 165 second static test of 4 Reaver engines together was performed.

During December, 2019, Firefly began the Alpha Stage 1 Qualification testing campaign by intalling a first stage on Firefly’s Test Stand 2 at Briggs. Plans called for hotfire testing leading to multiple 165 second full mission duty cycle test firings. On January 22, 2020, another test was stopped by a fire at the launch pad. The fire was soon extinguished, but the failure, combined with the growing Covid-19 pandemic, delayed Stage 1 Qualification testing for months. A first stage was not lifted into the test stand again until August, 2020.

Launch Sites

Firefly plans to begin launch operations at Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 2 West, a site last used by Delta 2. The pad will see minimal modifications, including installation of a launch pedestal for the Alpha vehicle transporter/erector. Alpha will be rolled to the pad horizontally on the transporter and then will be raised to vertical for launch. The pedestal and transporter erector equipment were shipped to VAFB during August, 2020.

On February 22, 2019, Firefly Aerospace and Space Florida annouced that Firefly would conduct launches from Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 20 and establish manufacturing facilities at Exploration Park, Florida. Space Florida would provide up to $18.9 million for infrastructure improvements while Firefly would spend $52 million and employ more than 200.

Alpha Inaugural Fails

Alpha Inaugural Fails

Smallsat launcher Alpha from Firefly Aerospace failed during its inaugural orbital attempt from Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 3, 2021. The 54.12 tonne, 29.74 meter tall, two-stage LOX/kerosene rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 2 West at 01:59 UTC after an aborted attempt about an hour earlier. Alpha’s four Reaver-1 tap-off cycle engines produced about 75 tonnes of thurst at liftoff. The early moments of the flight appeared to go well, but as the vehicle gained altitude it appeared to underperform. It flew for about 2.5 minutes before reaching Max-Q, about a minute later than expected. The rocket then flipped out of control and exploded.

Alpha carried a small, 92.115 kg payload of CubeSats on this test flight, designated FLTA001. A 300 km x 137 deg retrograde orbit was planned. Alpha is designed to carry up to 1,000 kg to a 200 km low inclination low Earth orbit, or 630 kg to a 500 km sun synchronous orbit. Its 1.8 meter diameter stages and 2.2 meter diameter payload fairing are made from carbon composite materials. A single 7.14 tonne thrust Lightning-1 engine powers the second stage.

Vehicle Configurations

 LEO
Payload
(metric tons)
[1] 200 km x 28.5 deg
[2] 500 km x 98.6 deg
ConfigurationLIftoff
Height
(meters)
Liftoff
Mass
(metric tons)
Alpha1.000 t [1]
0.630 t [2]
Stg 1 (4 x Reaver) + Stg 2 (1 x Lightning) + PLF29 m54 t

* LEO:  Low Earth Orbit

Vehicle Components

 Stg 1Stg 2 Payload
Fairing
Diameter (m)1.8 m1.8 m 2.0 m
Length (m)18 m5.9 m 5.04 m
Propellant Mass (tonnes) t t  
Empty Mass (tonnes)2.895 t0.910 t  
Total Mass (tonnes) t t  t
Engine4 x Reaver1 x Lightning  
Engine MfgrFirefly/YuzhmashFirefly/Yuzhmash  
FuelKeroseneKerosene  
OxidizerLOXLOX  
Thrust
(SL tons)
75.052 t   
Thrust
(Vac tons)
 t7.14 t  
ISP (SL sec)  
ISP (Vac sec)295.6 s322 s  
Burn Time (sec)165 s316 s  
No. Engines41  

Firefly Alpha Launch Log

                       FIREFLY ALPHA ORBITAL SPACE LAUNCH LOG

DATE     VEHICLE           ID      PAYLOAD                 MASS(t) SITE*     ORBIT*
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
09/03/21 Alpha             FLTA001 DREAM                   0.92115 VA 2W     [FTO][1]
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] Control loss at about T+2.5 minutes.  Underperforming prior to loss. 

Site Code:

VA = Vandeberg AFB, California
CC = Cape Canaveral, Florida 

 Orbit Code:

EEO/M = Molynia (12-hr) Elliptical Earth Orbit
FTO = Failed to Orbit
FSO = Failed Suborbital
GTO = Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit
GTO+ = Supersynchronous or High Perigee Transfer Orbit
GTO- = Subsynchronous Transfer Orbit
GTOi = Inclined GTO
GEO = Geosynchronous Orbit
HCO = Heliocentric (solar) Orbit
HTO = High Earth Transfer Orbit
LEO = Low Earth Orbit
LEO/S = Sun Synchronous Low Earth Orbit
LEO/P = Polar Low Earth Orbit
MEO = Medium Earth Orbit
MTO = Medium Earth Transfer Orbit 
SUB = Suborbital
xxx

References

Firefly Aerospace Web Site,  Alpha Launch Vehicle Description, 2020

 Last Update:  September 03, 2021

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