A new rocket passed a key milestone with a successful test at Vandenberg Space Force Base this week en route to its maiden launch in two weeks.
Firefly Aerospace announced on Thursday that the firm had performed a static fire test of the Alpha launch vehicle, which stands 95 feet tall, at Space Launch Complex 2.
“The fully-fueled, flight-ready vehicle fired its first stage engines for 15 seconds,” Firefly announced on Twitter.
A video posted online shows the static fire test with one crew member saying, “Burn, baby, burn.” Another crew member asked for the “plus count,” leading to someone else to report the tally “14, 15.”
“Made it all the way,” a crew member said, prompting applause from others audible in the background.
A static fire test involves counting down to zero and igniting the first stage engines while the rocket remains earthbound.
“The test was successful and clears the way for Firefly to make its first launch attempt, currently scheduled for Sept. 2,” the firm said.
The company did not release the intended launch time or any other details about the debut of the small rocket. Launch dates, especially for new rockets, can be fluid because of technical troubles requiring attention before liftoff or unfavorable weather.
Alpha’s maiden flight will carry the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission, or DREAM, a collection of academic and educational payloads chosen after a global competition to find rideshare participants. More than two dozen DREAM payloads represent seven countries, according to Firefly’s 2019 announcement.
For the past few months, there have been several false reports floating around social media about launch dates for this mission, although Firefly has said only that the team was working toward readying for the inaugural launch.
This week’s test came after an earlier attempt didn’t go as planned and it was aborted for what Firefly’s Eric Salwan, co-founder and director of commercial business development, called “a non-static, fire-related item.”
“We reviewed the data and were satisfied that the launch site and launch vehicle are ready for the launch,” Salwan said in late June.
The team also had to await the arrival a crucial component from a vendor related to the flight termination system undergoing qualification testing.
In April, Firefly announced that the rocket had been raised from a horizontal position at the launch site.
“Today, on the 60th anniversary of man first reaching space, we fully installed Alpha and rotated vertical on Firefly’s Vandenberg launch pad,” the firm said.
Firefly is using the former Delta II rocket launch pad, but the signature blue mobile service tower was removed by a contractor. That project sparked a fire, leading to dramatic pictures of flames and black smoke from the site last October.
This spring, Firefly also worked to line up additional financing and awarded a contract to Space Exploration Technologies to launch its Blue Ghost lunar lander in 2023. Blue Ghost will be carrying 10 payloads for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission.
Even as they work toward the first launch, the team has been building Alpha Flight 2 and 3 launch vehicles. The team expects to follow up with a second launch shortly after the first launch.
Based in Cedar Park, Texas, Firefly is developing a family of launch and in-space vehicles and services with a focus on affordability, convenience and reliability. Firefly’s rocket uses common technologies, manufacturing infrastructure and launch capabilities in providing rides to space for smaller payloads.
Vandenberg expects to have a busy late summer with as many as four missions hoping to get off the ground in early September. That includes the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Landsat 9 Earth-observing satellite.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.