Firefly Aerospace is a private aerospace firm based in Austin, Texas, that develops small and medium-sized launch vehicles for commercial launches to orbit. They are proponents of NewSpace: a movement in the aerospace industry whose objective is to increase access to space through innovative technical advances resulting in a reduction of launch cost and the lessening of regulations and logistical restrictions associated with dependence on national space institutions.
|Firefly Space Systems|
|Founders||Max Polyakov and Tom Markusic|
|Tom Markusic, CEO|
Number of employees
|180 in the USA,|
160 in Ukraine.
The company was formed when former Firefly Space Systems assets were acquired by EOS Launcher in March 2017, which was then renamed Firefly Aerospace. Firefly Aerospace is wholly owned by Noosphere Ventures, the strategic venture arm of Noosphere Global. Firefly Aerospace is now working on the Alpha 2.0 launch vehicle which has a significantly larger payload capability than the previous Alpha developed by Firefly Space Systems. It aims to place a 1,000 kilogram payload into a low Earth orbit and 600 kilogram into a Sun-synchronous orbit. The restructured company has about 140 employees.
Firefly Space SystemsEdit
Firefly Space Systems was formed in January 2014 by Tom Markusic, P.J. King and Michael Blum and a small group of entrepreneurs who self-funded the company. In September 2014, Firefly announced it would move its headquarters from Hawthorne, California to Austin-suburb Cedar Park, Texas. By November it had relocated to Texas. It grew to 30 employees by August 2014 and 43 employees by November 2014. Firefly had office and engineering facilities in Cedar Park, Texas and Hawthorne, California and purchased 215 acres (87 ha) of land for an engine test and manufacturing facility in Briggs, Texas, 50 miles (80 km) north of Austin.
Tom Markusic has a background in propulsion engineering, and has worked at other NewSpace companies including SpaceX — where he was manager of the SpaceX Texas Rocket Test Facility — and also held senior posts at Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. The company name came to Markusic while sitting on his back porch watching fireflies and realizing that in the future the sky above Earth might look like that as spacecraft ferried people to Mars.
In 2014, Firefly purchased fiber-winding equipment for manufacturing composite cryotanks that will be built using an out-of-autoclave process. Prototype tanks were tested at Marshall Space Flight Center in mid-2014.
The Firefly Alpha design was revealed in July 2014. As of November 2014[update] Firefly's objective was to be cash-flow positive by 2018, based on anticipated small-satellite business. Firefly had signed an agreement with Space Florida to launch from the Florida "Space Coast".
Firefly performed their first hot-fire engine test of the "Firefly Rocket Engine Research 1" (FRE-R1) on 10 September 2015. The initial demonstration launch of the Firefly Alpha was planned to be as early as 2016.
Litigation and closureEdit
In December 2014, Tom Makusic's former employer Virgin Galactic blamed him to have illegaly provided Virgin intellectual property to the Alpha development team. Virgin also alleged that Markusic had "destroyed storage devices, disposed of computers, and reformatted hard drives to cover the tracks of his misappropriation of Virgin Galactic information". In August 2016, an independent arbitrator confirmed that Markusic had destroyed evidence. Thereafter, a major European investor backed down, leaving Firefly without sufficient money to proceed. The company furloughed their entire staff in October 2016. According to Markusic, the investor's drawback was not related to the litigation but to Brexit. Within the same month, Virgin Orbit filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Firefly and two of its officers. By 1 December 2016, Firefly Space Systems had permanently ceased engineering work.
In March 2017, it was announced that "virtually all" of the assets of Firefly would be sold at auction, organized by EOS Launcher, Inc., who had previously bought a $1M promissory note issued by Firefly to Space Florida and induced a foreclosure.
After going bankrupt and being liquidated in March 2017, the company was re-created as Firefly Aerospace by Noosphere Ventures, who bought out the assets of former Firefly Space Systems. The owner of Noosphere Ventures, Max Polyakov, committed to fully fund Firefly through at least its first two launches. The plans for engine development were significantly altered by the new management, and the revised Alpha vehicle features a pump-fed engine and removes the aerospike configuration. The reorganization has delayed development by approximately a year, with the first launch expected in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Development of engines and structures has resumed[when?] and Firefly Aerospace has performed multiple hot-fire tests of its Lightning-1 second stage engine on its existing horizontal test stand. A vertical stage test stand is nearing completion and stage testing is expected to begin in the second half of 2018.
On 17 May 2018, Firefly Aerospace opened a Research and Development (R&D) center in the city of Dnipro, Ukraine. The Firefly R&D center was announced to become over time a place of work for more than 150 employees, and is equipped with the largest 3D-printer in Ukraine, intended for industrial manufacturing of high-quality metal parts.
In February 2019, the company announced that it would develop manufacturing facilities and a launch site at Cape Canaveral. They have leased a private launch pad in Florida—the former Space Launch Complex 20 (SLC-20) which had been used by the US Air Force in the 1950s through 1996—from the US government and they also have a similar lease arrangement on the US West Coast.
The Alpha vehicle developed by Firefly Aerospace is an expendable launch vehicle with 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb) payload capability to low Earth orbit and 600 kg to Sun-synchronous orbit. Projected launch cost is $15 million per launch. Alpha is designed to compete with vehicles like the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.
Firefly headquarters and factory are located in Cedar Park, Texas. The company has access to about 50,000 ft2 of manufacturing facilities for building composite and metallic components in-house. Firefly will use leased launch sites in California (Vandenberg Air Force Base) and in Florida (SLC-20).
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- Official website
- Firefly Space Systems, overview video, October 2015.
- Profile | Thomas Markusic, Founder and Chief Executive, Firefly Space Systems, by Dan Leone; 13 October 2014; spacenews.com