Firefly targets August for NASA cubesat launch

Firefly Aerospace is now targeting August to launch a batch of cubesats for NASA, rather than July, in what is shaping up to be a busy summer for the small launch company.

Firefly disclosed the new launch window in recent filing with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. The company did not provide more details as to the reason for the slip in response to an inquiry from TechCrunch. A company representative did say that Firefly is currently wrapping up final preparations for Victus Nox, a “responsive space” mission for the U.S. Space Force (USSF), and will set an exact launch date for the NASA mission once Victus is complete.

That means the company, which launched just two times since its founding as Firefly Space Systems in 2014, will likely attempt two launches in the span of mere months.

The NASA launch is part of a $9.8 million contract Firefly won in December 2020 under the space agency’s Launch Services Program. The Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo-2) mission will see the launch of several cubesats to a 550 km sun synchronous orbit (SSO). The VCLS contracts allow launch vehicles to demonstrate their capabilities using payloads with a higher risk tolerance. Relativity Space and Astra were also awarded VCLS Demo-2 contracts through the program.

This will be Firefly’s fourth mission with its Alpha rocket. Firefly launched Alpha for the first time in September 2021. That launch ended in failure due to a premature shutdown of one of the first-stage engines. Thirteen months later, the company successfully reached orbit, though the payloads on board were inserted into a lower orbit than planned. As a result, those payloads reentered the Earth’s atmosphere after a few days.

Firefly declared the launch a success, however, saying in a series of tweets that it had achieved its primary and secondary objectives for the mission.

The third mission, the upcoming Victus Nox – Latin for “conquer the night” – will see Firefly demonstrating the ability to launch with just 24-hours notice for the USSF. The company was awarded the $17.6 million contract last October. Both Victus Nox and the VCLS-Demo 2 missions will launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Alpha is a two-stage expendable rocket designed to carry up to 1,375 kilograms to low Earth orbit or 860 kilograms to SSO. It stands at around 96 feet and has a maximum diameter of 7 feet. Firefly is also currently developing a medium-lift rocket with Northrop Grumman and a lunar lander called Blue Ghost, among other space capabilities.

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