SpaceX and Firefly Aerospace are on track to attempt three orbital launches this weekend, with the former continuing to assemble a constellation of Starlink Internet satellites relentlessly, and the latter working to ensure its first success.
Following 40 successful Falcon 9 launches this year, SpaceX is just days away from two more Starlink missions likely to leave the company with more than 3,000 operating satellites in orbit.
Founded in 2017, 15 years after SpaceX, Firefly Aerospace is focused almost entirely on one short-term goal: the first successful launch of its Alpha rocket.
The Alpha rocket lifted off from Firefly for the first time on September 2, 2021. Just moments after launch, a faulty cable shut down one of the four Reaver engines for the first Alpha stage of the Alpha, immediately nullifying the attempt. The missile inexplicably held up, managing to fly for more than two minutes before losing control, becoming a safety hazard, and terminated.
More than a year later, Firefly believes it has solved the problems that doomed Alpha Flight 1 and is about to attempt the rocket’s second launch, which was not scheduled before (NET) 3 p.m. PT (22:00 UTC) on Sunday, September 11. .
Recently, the fully-stacked Alpha II rocket completed a wet dress rehearsal And the fixed fire While installed on Firefly’s Vandenberg Space Force Base (VSFB) SLC-2W platform, confirming its flight readiness. At 1.8 meters (6 feet) wide and 29.5 meters (approximately 95 feet) long, and about half the width and height of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 horsepower, Firefly estimates that the expendable rocket will be able to launch up to 1.17 tons (~2560 lbs). ) into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
This is several times greater performance per launch than competitors such as Rocket Lab, Astra Space and Virgin Orbit, but 14 times less than the partially reusable Falcon 9. , which may be enough to create a niche for customers who want to spend a little more to send out smaller satellites exactly Where instead they want to get off in the general vicinity as a ride-sharing load.
Demonstrating an amazing level of transparency, Firefly will present a file public live broadcast From the Alpha’s second flight with the full realization that it could eventually broadcast, it failed to launch for the second time in a row. There are very few cases in the history of spaceflight where a new rocket of a new group has successfully reached orbit when it was first launched, so the startup is credited with acknowledging the fact that launch failures are a common extension of the development process, rather than something to hide from the public.
SpaceX knows this fact all too well. The Falcon 1, its first rocket, was about half the size of an Alpha Firefly and suffered three launch failures in two and a half years before finally succeeding on its fourth attempt. The Falcon 9 likely benefited from the SpaceX Falcon 1 experience more than a larger size, and had a smoother start to life, although it eventually had its share of failures years after its 2010 debut.
Twelve years later, the Falcon 9 has become one of the most successful launch vehicles ever, and at the same time pioneered the reuse of commercially viable orbital class missiles. Currently, at a historical pace of one launch approximately every 6.2 days in 2022, the Falcon 9 recently completed its 146th consecutive launch and 173 successful launches overall.
We hope these trends continue, Next space trip Reports indicate that the Falcon 9 is set to launch two more sets of Starlink satellites at 9:10 PM EST on Saturday and September 10 and 10:53 PM EST on Sunday, September 11. In addition to dozens of Starlink satellites, the first mission – the Starlink 4-2 – is expected to carry a relatively large 1.5-ton (~3300 lb) satellite prototype to start AST SpaceMobile’s space-to-phone communications. The second mission, known as Starlink 4-34, should be a dedicated launch of 53 or 54 Starlink satellites.