Firefly Aerospace  is an American 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.
|Formerly||Firefly Space Systems|
(as Firefly Space Systems)
(as Firefly Aerospace)
|Founders||Max Polyakov and|
|Tom Markusic, CEO|
Number of employees
|350 in the United States|
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 1000 kg payload into a low Earth orbit (LEO) and 600 kg into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The restructured company has about 350 employees as of January 2021.
Firefly Aerospace was awarded a $93.3M contract by NASA to deliver 10 scientific experiments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program in 2023. The Blue Ghost lunar lander will carry instruments to study several aspects of the lunar surface in preparation for future human missions to the moon.
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 2014, 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 mi (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 of NASA 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 Markusic's former employer Virgin Galactic alleged he had illegally 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 its 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 US$1 million 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 summer of 2021.
Development of engines and structures has resumed in 2017 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 November 2018, it was announced that NASA selected Firefly Aerospace as one of nine companies able to bid for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), where the company would propose a robotic lunar lander called Firefly Genesis.
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 U.S. Air Force in the 1950s through 1996 — from the U.S. government and they also have a similar lease arrangement on the U. S. West Coast.
The Alpha vehicle developed by Firefly Aerospace is an expendable launch vehicle with 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) payload capability to low Earth orbit and 600 kg (1,300 lb) to Sun-synchronous orbit. Projected launch cost is US$15 million per launch. Alpha is designed to compete with vehicles like the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). It utilizes Reaver-1 and Lightning-1 engines and a lightweight carbon composite structure to reduce launch weight, resulting in improved payload fraction.
Firefly Beta is a launch vehicle concept originally planned to consist of three Alpha cores strapped together. In October 2019, Firefly announced a partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop a single core rocket potentially powered by Rocketdyne's AR1 engine. In 2020, the Beta was redesigned to be a scaled up Alpha. The first stage will be 3.7 m (12 ft) diameter with 5 Reaver engines capable of delivering 8000 kg to LEO or 5800 kg to SSO inside a 4.7 m (15 ft) fairing.
Firefly Gamma is a concept of a winged rocket to launch small payloads into orbit. It would be a 2-stage rocket 75% reusable with its upper stage landing horizontally at a runway. Its first test flights are expected to start in 2024 or 2025.
Genesis lunar landerEdit
On 9 June 2019, Firefly Aerospace announced that it had signed an agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which owns the intellectual property of the Beresheet lunar lander design, to build a lunar lander named Genesis based on Beresheet. Genesis was proposed for NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) to deliver payloads to the surface of the Moon. If selected, Firefly Genesis would have been launched on a Firefly Beta rocket, or a Falcon 9 rocket in late 2022. Due to changing CLPS specifications, Firefly determined that Genesis no longer fit NASA's requirements and started work on a new lunar lander design called Blue Ghost in 2021.
Blue Ghost lunar landerEdit
|Country of origin||United States|
|Applications||Lunar payloads delivery|
|Payload capacity||150 kg (330 lb)|
|Maiden launch||Mid 2023 (planned)|
Blue Ghost is a lunar lander designed internally at Firefly to meet NASA's updated requirements for a CLPS lunar lander. The lander is named after the rare Phausis reticulata (Latin for Blue Ghost) firefly. Despite being developed by Firefly, IAI will support the Blue Ghost lunar lander development effort as per their previous agreement on Genesis.
On 4 February 2021, NASA awarded a CLPS contract worth US$93.3 million to Firefly Aerospace to deliver a suite of 10 science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023. The award is part of the NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, in which NASA is securing the service of commercial partners to quickly land science and technology payloads on the lunar surface. The initiative is a key part of NASA's Artemis program.
Firefly Aerospace will be responsible for end-to-end delivery services, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon, and mission operations. This is the sixth award for lunar surface delivery under the CLPS initiative. This is the first delivery awarded to Firefly Aerospace, which will provide the lunar delivery service using its Blue Ghost lander, which the company designed and developed at its Cedar Park facility. This facility also will house the integration of NASA and any non-NASA payloads, and also will serve as the company's mission operations center for the 2023 delivery. Mare Crisium, where Firefly Aerospace's Blue Ghost will land, is a more than 500-km-wide basin where instruments will gather data to provide insight into the Moon's regolith – loose, fragmented rock and soil – properties, geophysical characteristics, and the interaction of solar wind and Earth's magnetic field.
The payloads, collectively expected to total 94 kg (207 lb) in mass, include:
- The Regolith Adherence Characterization (RAC), which will determine how lunar regolith sticks to a range of materials exposed to the Moon's environment during landing and lander operations. Components will be derived from the Materials International Space Station Experiment (MISSE) facility currently on the International Space Station (ISS).
- The Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors (NGLR), which will serve as a target for lasers on Earth to precisely measure the distance between Earth and the Moon. The retroreflector that will fly on this mission also will provide data that could be used to understand various aspects of the lunar interior and address fundamental physics questions.
- The Lunar Environment Heliospheric X-ray Imager (LEXI), which will capture images of the interaction of Earth's magnetosphere with the flow of charged particles from the Sun, called the solar wind.
- The Reconfigurable, Radiation Tolerant Computer System (RadPC), which aims to demonstrate a radiation-tolerant computing technology. Due to the Moon's lack of atmosphere and magnetic field, radiation from the Sun will be a challenge for electronics. This investigation also will characterize the radiation effects on the lunar surface.
- The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder (LMS), which is designed to characterize the structure and composition of the Moon's mantle by studying electric and magnetic fields. The investigation will make use of a flight-spare magnetometer, a device that measures magnetic fields, originally made for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft currently orbiting Mars.
- The Lunar Instrumentation for Subsurface Thermal Exploration with Rapidity (LISTER), which is designed to measure heat flow from the interior of the Moon. The probe will attempt to drill 2.13–3.05 m (7 ft 0 in–10 ft 0 in) into the lunar regolith to investigate the Moon's thermal properties at different depths.
- The Lunar PlanetVac (LPV), which is designed to acquire lunar regolith from the surface and transfer it to other instruments that would analyze the material or put it in a container that another spacecraft could return to Earth.
- Stereo CAmeras for Lunar Plume Surface Studies (SCALPSS 1.1), which will capture video and still images of the area under the lander from when the engine plume first disturbs the lunar surface through engine shutdown. Long-focal-length cameras will determine the pre-landing surface topography. Photogrammetry will be used to reconstruct the changing surface during landing. Understanding the physics of rocket exhaust on the regolith, and the displacement of dust, gravel, and rocks is critical to understanding how to best avoid kicking up surface materials during the terminal phase of flight/landing on the Moon and other celestial bodies.
- The Electrodynamic Dust Shield (EDS), which will generate a non-uniform electric field using varying high voltage on multiple electrodes. This traveling field, in turn, carries away the particles and has potential applications in thermal radiators, spacesuit fabrics, visors, camera lenses, solar panels, and many other technologies.
- The Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), which is based on GPS. LuGRE will continue to extend the reach of GPS signals and, if successful, be the first to discern GPS signals at lunar distances.
On 20 May 2021, Firefly selected SpaceX's Falcon 9 as the launch vehicle for the first mission, as their own Alpha rocket does not have the performance or payload volume needed to launch Blue Ghost. Firefly's future Beta launch vehicle is expected to support future Blue Ghost missions.
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 Space Launch Complex 2) and in Florida (SLC-20).
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