Firefly Aerospace Inc. launched its first rocket into orbit, advancing its bid to become a reliable partner for NASA.
Firefly Aerospace Inc. launched its first rocket into orbit, advancing the private space startup’s bid to become a reliable partner for NASA.
The Alpha rocket took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California early Saturday and successfully put three small payloads into Earth orbit, including one for the US space agency. A previous launch attempt failed in September 2021 when the debut Alpha rocket veered off course and had to be exploded shortly after takeoff.
The launch follows years of engineering work, litigation and financial struggles for Cedar Park, Texas-based Firefly, one of several companies NASA selected to deliver science payloads to the moon as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
Alpha is designed to carry about 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of cargo to low-earth orbit and nearly 1,400 pounds to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit. That puts it in the market between the large rockets of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, and the smaller-payload rockets built by several industry players, including Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab USA Inc.
Firefly has said it plans to launch Alpha twice monthly for commercial customers, charging $15 million per flight. The company scrubbed an earlier launch attempt on Sunday due to a drop in helium pressure.
Until recently, Firefly was partly owned by Ukrainian tech entrepreneur Max Polyakov. In November, the US government requested that Polyakov sell his stake in the company due to national security concerns. Polyakov agreed and sold his stake in Firefly in February to AE Industrial Partners.