A new rocket remains on track for its inaugural liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Thursday to give satellite manufacturers another small booster for getting payloads into orbit.
Firefly Aerospace continues to push toward the two-stage Alpha rocket’s departure between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. Thursday from Space Launch Complex-2, where weather appears ready to accommodate the liftoff.
“It’s happening. It really is,” said Kim Jennett, corporate marketing and communications director.
“This has a been long time coming so there are a lot of people who are very excited,” she said, adding they were tempering their emotions ahead of the launch.
Crew members hope to get the rocket off the ground earlier in the window but have a four-hour span in case of last-minute technical troubles during the countdown.
The cargo on board Alpha doesn’t need a precise placement in orbit as some spacecraft, giving the team flexibility as they countdown toward liftoff.
Standing about 95 feet tall, Alpha will carry the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission, or DREAM, payload. A global competition to host academic and educational payloads ended with the selection of the rideshare participants on the inaugural flight of the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle.
Firefly officials announced the highly anticipated launch date two weeks ago after Alpha successfully fired its first-stage engines for 15 seconds, a key test ahead of the planned launch.
The firm has taken over the facility once used for liftoffs of the workhorse Delta II rocket, which carried an assortment of medium-sized scientific, communication and military satellites before retirement in September 2018.
As Firefly moved onto SLC-2, a contractor dismantled the site’s once-distinctive feature — a blue mobile service tower.
SLC-2 sits northwest of Surf and Ocean beaches and west of the Vandenberg runway.
Many of the typical off-base viewing sites around the Lompoc Valley should offer vantage points for watching the rocket’s departure — assuming the marine layer stays away. That includes areas west of Lompoc’s city limits, the peak of Harris Grade Road and locations in Vandenberg Village.
Because of the rocket launch, the military has advised boaters to stay out of the ocean near Vandenberg.
However, as a rocket facing its first flight, the mariners’ notice for the upcoming Alpha mission includes a much wider swath than typically issued for a launch of a larger and more experienced rocket.
Firefly, based in Texas, aims to create “economical, reliable and convenient access to space,” with the design, manufacture and operation of launch vehicles incorporating the best of New Space practices and Heritage Space principles.
The firm has nearly 500 employees, with a larger than normal contingent on hand at Vandenberg this week for training in addition to those needed to conduct this mission, Jennett said.
Firefly also has planned for a launch site at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
A live webstream of the upcoming Firefly countdown and launch from Vandenberg can be found on Everyday Astronaut’s YouTube page by clicking here.
— 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.