Monday, December 5, 2022
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Firefly Aerospace reaches orbit with new Alpha rocket

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. — A new aerospace company took to orbit with its second rocket launch and deployed multiple small satellites on Saturday.

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, in the dark of morning and arced over the Pacific.

“100% mission success,” Firefly tweeted later.

A day earlier, a launch attempt ended abruptly when the countdown reached zero. The first stage engines fired but the rocket automatically aborted liftoff.

The rocket’s payload included multiple small satellites designed for a variety of experiments and technology demonstrations, as well as educational purposes.

The mission, dubbed “To The Black,” was the second demonstration flight of the company’s entry into the small satellite launcher market.

The first Alpha launched from Vandenberg on September 2, 2021, but did not reach orbit.

One of the first stage’s four engines shut down prematurely, but the rocket continued upward with three engines into the supersonic realm, where it spun out of control.

The rocket was then intentionally destroyed by an explosive flight termination system.

Firefly Aerospace said the premature shutdown was due to an electrical problem, but that the rocket had otherwise performed well and useful data was obtained during the nearly 2 1/2-minute flight.

Alpha is designed to carry payloads weighing up to 2,579 pounds (1,170 kilograms) into low-Earth orbit.

Other competitors in the burgeoning small-launch market include Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, both based in Long Beach, California.

Cedar Park, Texas-based Firefly Aerospace is also planning a larger rocket, a space operations vehicle and a lander to carry commercial and NASA payloads to the moon’s surface.


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