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12.09.2022

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha Rocket Aiming for Sunday Launch from Vandenberg SFB

The mission comes a year after the firm’s first flight attempt ended in failure

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The Firefly Alpha rocket stands at Space Launch Complex-2 awaiting launch at Vandenberg Space Force Base. (Firefly Aerospace photo)

With hopes for a different outcome than a year ago, a fledgling rocket will return to flight Sunday afternoon at Vandenberg Space Force Base in a mission to deliver several small satellites into orbit and prove Alpha’s capabilities to join the small launcher market. 

The Firefly Aerospace booster, standing 95 feet tall, will aim for liftoff from Space Launch Complex-2 during a launch window opening at 3 p.m. Sunday.

SLC-2, which previously served as the site for Delta II rocket launches, sits a few miles north of Surf and Wall beaches. Boaters and pilots have been warned to remain out of the area near base until approximately 8 p.m. Sunday.

Firefly has had a busy summer prepping for the launch, completing a wet dress rehearsal and static fire test — essentially practice countdowns — ahead of liftoff. 

"Alpha Flight 2 is ready and headed #ToTheBlack," the firm posted on social media.

To The Black is Firefly’s second technology demonstration flight that will attempt to launch multiple satellites to low Earth orbit, Firefly official have said. The firm’s first flight attempt ended in failure on Sept. 2, 2021. 

A review of data confirmed an engine shutdown doomed the rocket’s flight, sending it tumbling before it ended in a fireball.

"About 15 seconds into the flight, engine 2 (there are four Reaver engines on the first stage) shut down,” Firefly officials stated days after the failure. "It was an uneventful shutdown — the engine didn’t fail — the propellant main valves on the engine simply closed and thrust terminated from engine 2.”

Still, with three engines firing, the rocket continued to climb and maintain control for about 145 seconds. The nominal first-stage burn duration is about 165 seconds. 

However, because of one missing engine — and the lack of thrust from that engine — the rocket’s climb rate was slow and it struggled to maintain control, Firefly said.

Alpha was able to compensate initially, but the three-engine thrust vector control was insufficient, causing the vehicle to tumble out of control, with video showing the rocket completing a flip.

Western Range crews at Vandenberg issued the command to terminate the flight, causing the dramatic explosion.

Debris from the destroyed rocket landed in Orcutt and Lake Marie Estates. A year later, officials have not explained why pieces of the booster have been recovered in the local community. 

Rockets making their debut often end in failure although not typically as dramatically as Alpha’s fireball.

In the year since, Firefly has seen several significant changes, including the recent addition of a new leader. Bill Weber, a longtime aerospace and defense executive, has been named chief executive officer, Firefly announced this month.

Firefly Aerospace is working to develop an economical launch vehicle with an eye toward filling the need for a rocket to carry smaller satellites.

But Firefly also has partnered with Northrop Grumman Corp. to develop a first-stage upgrade for the Antares rocket and a new medium-lift launch vehicle to serve commercial, civil and national security space launch markets. The unique collaboration will provide American-built engines to replace the Russian-made RD-181 engines.

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A webcast of the launch will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday

Mission Summary

Alpha Flight 2: To The Black is Firefly’s second technology demonstration flight that will attempt to launch multiple satellites to low Earth orbit (LEO) from our launch site (SLC-2) at Vandenberg Space Force Base. Alpha will first insert into an elliptical transfer orbit, coast to apogee, and perform a circularization burn.

Timing: Launch window opens on September 11th, 2022, at 3:00 PM PST

Location: Firefly SLC-2, Vandenberg Space Force Base, CA

Altitude: 300 km

Inclination: 137 deg

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NASA TechEdSat-15

 

  • Class: 3U CubeSat
  • Dimensions: 10cm x 10cm x 34cm
  • Mass: 4.15kg

 

Mission: The TechEdSat-15 is a three-unit CubeSat that weighs 9.1 pounds and carries experiments that are being advanced in TechEdSat’s Nano-Orbital Workshop (NOW) rapid flight development series.

TechEdSat-15’s primary experiment is a version of an exo-brake intended to survive much higher temperature environments – several hundred degrees – than in previous flights. It will demonstrate the next step forward in nanosatellites’ ability to target an Earth entry point.

The exo-brake is a device that applies drag in Earth’s exosphere – the uppermost reaches of the atmosphere – to slow the speed of a satellite’s descent and change its direction. This experiment will permit the satellite to survive closer-to-peak heating, maintain telemetry, and assess the dynamics as the system enters the top of the atmosphere.

Another experiment on TechEdSat-15 includes the Beacon And Memory Board Interface (BAMBI), which optimizes internal and external data transfer from the nanosatellite.

The TechEdSat-NOW series has multiple research goals including using the exo-brake to de-orbit high-altitude nanosatellites at end of mission to reduce issues related to orbital debris. Additionally, drag modulation has uses for sample return from low-Earth orbit as well as tailoring orbits during aero-pass maneuvers for future planetary applications.


Libre Space Foundation — PicoBus

 

  • Class: PicoSat Deployer
  • Dimensions: 37cm x 12cm x 15cm
  • Mass: 6.327Kg (including dispenser)

 

Mission: An 8P Pocketqube deployer to be used to deploy 6 picosatellites into space and test the world’s first fully free and open source telecommunications constellation

GENESIS-L & GENESIS-N (AMSAT Spain). Objective: Technology demonstration for radio-amateurs, micro sub-joule pulsed plasma thruster & test platform to build heritage for future missions

FOSSASAT-1B. Objective: Communication & Remote sensing Technology Demonstrator of LoRa telecommunications, ADCS demonstration, & low-resolution earth imager experiment.

Qubik-1 & Qubik-2 (Libre Space). Objective: Communication Technology Demonstrator performing multiple telecommunication experiments

Quelle: Noozhawk, Firefly Aerospace
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Update: 13.09.2022
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Firefly Scrubs Second Launch of Alpha Booster; Flight Rescheduled for Monday

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Second Firefly Alpha rocket on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. (Credit: Firefly Aerospace)

 

Firefly scrubbed the second launch of its Alpha booster from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Sunday evening.

Firefly aborted the countdown in the final minute due to a drop in helium pressure in Alpha’s second stage. The company attempted to launch at the beginning of a four-hour window that began at 3 pm PDT.

Firefly recycled the vehicle to attempt a launch later in the window. The company subsequently decided to scrub for the day due to a continuing problem with helium pressure.

Firefly has a launch window on Monday that begins at 3 pm PDT (6 pm EDT/22:00 UTC).

Firefly is hoping the second launch of its Alpha booster is the charm. The launch comes just over a year after an Alpha rocket failed on its maiden flight after a first-stage engine shut down.

Firefly Alpha Launch No. 2 Payloads

Satellite Type Organization(s) Purpose
TechEdSat-15 (TES-15) CubeSat NASA Ames / San Jose State University Technology demonstration
TIS Serenity CubeSat Teachers in Space, Inc. Education
PicoBus PocketQube Libre Space Foundation PocketQube deployer
FOSSASAT-1B PocketQube FOSSA Systems Technology demonstration
GENESIS-L PocketQube AMSAT-EA Amateur radio
GENESIS-N PocketQube AMSAT-EA Amateur radio
QUBIK-1 PocketQube Libre Space Foundation Technology demonstration
QUBIK-2 PocketQube Libre Space Foundation Technology demonstration
Firefly capsule Capsule Firefly Aerospace 128 postcards
Source: Wikipedia

Alpha is carrying eight small satellites and a capsule with postcards on a rideshare flight.

Quelle: Parabolic Arc

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Update: 16.09.2022

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Firefly reschedules test launch for next week after two scrubs

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Firefly’s launch pad crew works on the Alpha rocket Monday, Sept. 12, at Vandenberg Space Force Base. Credit: Brian Sandoval / Spaceflight Now

Firefly Aerospace said Monday it will try again Sept. 19 to launch its second Alpha rocket from California after scrubbing back-to-back launch attempts due to a helium pressure issue and unfavorable wind conditions.

The Texas-based company is preparing for the second test flight of its Alpha launch vehicle, a nearly 10-story-tall rocket designed to haul small satellites into low Earth orbit. A test launch last year failed when one of its four main engines shut down shortly after liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.

Firefly’s second commercial Alpha rocket was scheduled to launch from Vandenberg on Sunday, but the launch team scrubbed the launch attempt to investigate a drop in helium supply pressure to the rocket’s second stage. The company was ready to try again Monday, but called off the countdown “due to violation of wind constraints.”

The next launch opportunities for Firefly on the U.S. Space Force’s Western Range at Vandenberg will be Sept. 19 and 20, Firefly said. The Alpha rocket will take off from Space Launch Complex 2-West at Vandenberg, the former West Coast home for United Launch Alliance’s now-retired Delta 2 rocket.

The two-stage Alpha rocket is designed to loft up to 2,580 pounds (1,170 kilograms) into a low-altitude orbit, or up to 1,642 pounds (745 kilograms) of payload to a 310-mile-high (500-kilometer) sun-synchronous polar orbit. The Alpha is one of many privately-developed small satellite launchers new to the market.

Four Reaver engines on the first stage will generate more than 165,000 pounds of thrust at maximum power, and a Lightning engine on the second stage will produce more than 15,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket first and second stages measure about 6 feet, or 1.8 meters, in diameter, and the payload fairing is slightly wider at 6.6 feet (2 meters).

Firefly says it expects to sell a dedicated Alpha launch for $15 million per flight.

Firefly says the size of its rocket — which can carry heavier payloads than Rocket Lab’s Electron or Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne — differentiates it from other prospective launch providers in the smallsat launch market.

For its second demonstration mission, Firefly’s Alpha rocket will attempt to launch on a similar mission profile to the one it was supposed to fly on the failed test flight last year. It will target a 186-mile-high inclined 137 degrees to the equator. The unusual orbit, called a retrograde orbit because the rocket will travel against the Earth’s rotation, will require the Alpha launcher to head southwest over the Pacific Ocean on a track passing just south of Hawaii.

There are seven small CubeSat and “picosatellite” payloads riding on the Alpha rocket for NASA, a non-profit education organization called “Teachers in Space,” and from groups in Spain and Greece.

Quelle: SN

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Update: 19.09.2022

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Firefly Launch Delayed, Delta IV Heavy Rocket Departure Set for Sept. 24

The Firefly Aerospace rocket’s return to flight will wait a bit longer at Vandenberg Space Force Base as a rain storm aims for the Central Coast at the start of the week, but a bigger rocket remains on track for its departure at the week's end.

On Friday, Firefly officials said they called off plans for an early Monday morning liftoff from Space Launch Complex-2 at the base. 

“We have received a weather update surrounding the storms off the west coast of the U.S. that is causing a delay to our launch window,” Firefly officials said on Twitter.

A chance of rain remains in the forecast for Sunday night and Monday for North County with lesser chances for areas to the south, according to the National Weather Service. 

Firefly representatives were working with Vandenberg officials to reschedule the launch.

“New launch window is now no earlier than September 29th. Alpha stands ready to launch.”

The Firefly team counted down toward liftoff on Sept. 11 but a helium pressure problem kept the 95-foot-tall boost on the ground. 

Plans for a second try on Sept. 12 were scrubbed due to windy conditions as the Central Coast dealt with remnants of Tropical Storm Kay. 

Meanwhile, a different rocket, the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, continues to march toward its Sept. 24 liftoff for a mission to carry a National Reconnaissance Office payload. 

The mission involving classified cargo has been dubbed NROL-91.

On Friday, officials announced the Delta IV Heavy departure from Space Launch Complex-6, originally built for the West Coast space shuttle program, will aim for 2:53 p.m. 

While the launch window remains top secret due to the cargo headed to space, the rocket’s flight won’t occur any later than 4:12 p.m., officials have said. 

NROL-91 will be the 10th Delta IV from Vandenberg, and the fifth and final heavy variant from Vandenberg.

Delta IV Heavy employs three core boosters strapped side by side to carry some of the nation’s heftiest payloads into space. 

Quelle: Noozhawk

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Update: 21.09.2022

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After three delays, Firefly announces new launch date for Alpha rocket out of VSFB

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Firefly Aerospace announced Monday a new launch window for its Alpha rocket out of Vandenberg Space Force Base.

The launch window is Friday, Sept. 30, from 12:01 a.m. - 2 a.m. If that launch does not take off a backup window is set for Saturday, Oct. 1, at the same time.

The launch has already been scrubbed three times.

On Sunday, Sept. 11, the launch was scrubbed because of a drop in the rocket's helium pressure. On Monday, Sept. 12, it was scrubbed due to wind. On Friday, Sept. 16, the launch was delayed because of the rain storm.

Firefly will be launching its Alpha rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base for only the second time.

Last September, the company launched an Alpha rocket from the base, but it exploded shortly after takeoff.

Firefly reported that the rocket had experienced an anomaly during the first stage ascent.

No one was hurt but the explosion scattered debris over the area with some rocket pieces being found as far away as Orcutt.

If successful, the rocket will attempt to launch multiple satellites to low Earth orbit.

Quelle: KSBY

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Update: 30.09.2022

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Firefly Aerospace aborts orbital test flight just after engine ignition

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