Firefly’s Alpha rocket has successfully reached orbit

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket successfully reached orbit following its launch from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base on Saturday. The launch was announced as a “100% Mission success” while deploying three satellite payloads on board, which according to Firefly, makes it “the first company to launch and reach orbit from US soil in only its second attempt.”

Firefly Aerospace is a private spaceflight company that develops launch systems for commercial customers. The first unsuccessful Alpha test flight containing its own payload of teeny satellites exploded midflight back in September 2021. The string of bad luck for Firefly then persisted, with three previous launch attempts for Alpha 2 being aborted in September due to technical issues and poor weather conditions.

Three previous launch attempts in September were aborted

FireFly’s Alpha vehicle is capable of launching a 745kg (1,642 pound) payload to a 500km (310 miles) Sun-synchronous orbit or a larger payload to a low Earth orbit. Three small satellite payloads were on board the successful Firefly Alpha 2 flight, with the largest (Libre Space Foundation’s PicoBus) weighing just under 14 pounds — roughly the same size as a healthy pug. PicoBus itself contains six picosatellites, which will test the world’s first fully free and open-source telecommunications constellation. 

The additional payloads included NASA’s TechEdSat-15, a three-unit CubeSat carrying experiments for TechEdSat’s Nano-Orbital Workshop, and Serenity (we see what you did there), an educational Cube satellite created by Teachers in Space that was designed to collect basic flight data. Alpha 3 is currently being prepared for its launch on November 29th, 2022, with six additional Alpha launches planned for 2023.

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