By Angela Rose | Apr 17, 2023
Cedar Park and Briggs, Texas
Launch and spacecraft vehicles
Founded in 2017, Firefly Aerospace is on a mission to enable any business in the world to launch, land, and operate in space -- anywhere and at any time. "This Texas-based Firefly team -- whose shareholders include its employees -- are launching rockets to space and preparing to land missions on the Moon," Weber says. "The overarching goal of this all-American company is to make space attainable for everyone -- a fitting nod to the hardworking 'Go Big' culture Texas is known for."
The company is headquartered in north Austin, where it operates a 50,000-square-foot spacecraft facility and full 2,500-square-foot ISO8 cleanroom that accommodates multiple landers. Firefly's 200-acre rocket production and test site -- also known as the Rocket Ranch -- can be found 30 minutes north in Briggs. The site is home to four test stands, and additional stands are under construction.
The Firefly team notes that the close proximity between its headquarters, spacecraft facilities, and test and production site give them the ability to continually innovate and then test, allowing for refined designs and robust, low-risk products for their customers that include both government and commercial entities such as NASA and the U.S. Space Force. The company has dedicated launch facilities at the Vandenberg Space Force Base and is in the process of expanding operations on the East Coast at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Firefly's products include launch vehicles, in-space vehicles, and lunar landers designed and manufactured to provide customers with end-to-end space transportation services from low Earth orbit to the Moon and beyond.
Alpha, Firefly’s small launch vehicle, is currently ramping up production to support multiple government and commercial missions in 2023, including an upcoming responsive space mission awarded by the U.S. Space Force and a NASA-awarded mission. The company is also co-developing a new medium launch vehicle in collaboration with Northrop Grumman. The first MLV will launch in 2025 and is expected to fill a gap in the market by providing a more responsive and affordable option for government and commercial customers.
Firefly’s Blue Ghost spacecraft is designed to enable payload delivery and operations in lunar orbit and on the surface of the Moon. The Firefly team is working on the final assembly of this spacecraft in preparation for the company's first mission to the Moon in 2024. The mission will deliver 13 government and commercial payloads to the lunar surface, including 10 NASA-sponsored payloads, as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. Additionally, the company was recently awarded another NASA CLPS contract to deliver three NASA-sponsored payloads to lunar orbit and the far side of the Moon in 2026.
"This follow-on is another vote of confidence into our Blue Ghost spacecraft as well as the larger capabilities within Firefly's product portfolio," says Jana Spruce, VP of Spacecraft. "Firefly uses common components, teams, and facilities across all our launch vehicles and spacecraft to reduce costs and provide robust mission assurance for our customers. For example, our carbon composite structures, engines, and core avionics support Alpha, Blue Ghost, and our Space Utility Vehicles."
About that Space Utility Vehicle, or SUV -- it will enable the company to deliver payloads to their preferred orbits, move spacecraft to higher orbits, and perform re-fueling missions and end of life de-orbiting. Firefly is currently entering the assembly, integration, and testing phase in preparation for its first SUV demonstration mission in low Earth orbit.
The company hasn't just embraced cutting-edge technology for space travel. Firefly has also deployed rapid-assembly manufacturing capabilities across the organization. This enables the acceleration of production time and support of on-demand mission schedules. Each spacecraft's carbon composite structure is constructed using automated fiber placement machines, allowing for significant cost, weight, and time savings.
The company notes that the ability to launch on demand is unlocking new opportunities in the commercial market. Rather than relying on costly on-orbit satellite spares, customers can pivot to on-the-ground satellite spares that can be launched and deployed on demand when a satellite fails or goes offline. The company can launch the minimum number of satellites when and where customers need them, allowing customers to modify and improve their on-the-ground spares as needed before launch.
"Firefly's momentum is at an all-time high," says Weber. "Firefly is executing on major milestones across our launch, in-space, and lunar delivery programs, and the company is growing rapidly to support two Blue Ghost missions to the Moon, the first instance of our Space Utility Vehicle, Alpha launches moving into an every-two-month cadence, and test and production of the new medium launch vehicle we're developing in collaboration with Northrop Grumman. We have an exciting road ahead of us, and we welcome passionate space innovators to join the Firefly team."
Challenges: The company notes that the current market environment is challenging not only for Firefly but for the entire space industry. However, Firefly Aerospace continues to successfully raise capital and add new investors at a higher valuation in its Series C raise than in the previous round. They expect their momentum to continue in 2023.
Opportunities: "Looking ahead, Firefly's evolving line of launch vehicles and spacecraft will provide more access to space and support more advanced missions over the next five to 10 years," says Weber. "This includes responsive launch, de-orbit, and reentry services in LEO; in-space mobility, logistics, and payload hosting in GEO; lunar deliveries and orbital services in cislunar space along with Moon sample returns to Earth; and transport services to nearby planets such as Mars and Venus."
Needs: The company declined to comment on needs at this time.