A fledgling rocket made its second flight early Saturday morning from Vandenberg Space Force Base, achieving several key milestones as it went “to the black” and delivered its cargo.
Liftoff of the Texas-based Firefly Aerospace ’s Alpha booster occurred at 12:01 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-2.
Foggy conditions kept most would-be spectators from seeing the flight of the 95-foot-tall rocket. A faint rumble could be heard in Santa Maria and other areas.
A report of second engine cutoff, or SECO, prompted cheers and applause from the control room.
“Orbit achieved. Alpha’s in the black,” a Firefly team member said.
Ninety minutes after launch, tracking stations on the ground confirmed the payloads had deployed. A short time later, company representatives declared on Twitter “100% Mission Succcess.”
Firefly officials labeled the launch a technology demonstration flight as they aimed to prove Alpha’s ability to carry payloads into space, filling the need for small satellite customers by providing an economical flight to orbit.
More than a year ago, the Alpha rocket’s flight ended in a fiery failure following liftoff from Vandenberg.
The firm’s road to a second rocket’s liftoff wasn’t smooth thanks in part to glitches and unfavorable weather.
The liftoff came after a Sept. 11 countdown ended with helium pressure troubles. A planned Sept. 12 launch was scrubbed due to forecasts calling for windy conditions and the team looked toward a week later, but a strong rainstorm prevented the attempt.
Friday’s attempt also encountered a last-minute abort leading to the decision to try again Saturday and succeed at getting off the ground and into space.
With launch facilities at both Vandenberg and in Florida, Firefly hopes to accommodate monthly flights by late 2022.
The rocket, employing carbon composite materials, carried a much lighter cargo load.
Since it was a demonstration flight, the research and development payloads amounted to about 77 pounds, much less than the 2,200 pounds Alpha is designed to carry.
On board Alpha were some small spacecraft aiming to test technology for future use in space.
For instance, the Teachers in Space Serenity payload will collect data about atmospheric pressure, temperature and radiation via a matched pair of Geiger counters, one wrapped in experimental radiation protection material and one unwrapped.
NASA’s TechEdSat-15 carries various experiments including the primary one to test technology for de-orbiting satellites in the future. The exo-brake device has been designed to survive much higher temperature environments
Another experiment on TechEdSat-15 includes the Beacon And Memory Board Interface (BAMBI), which optimizes internal and external data transfer from the nanosatellite.
“The TechEdSat-NOW series has multiple research goals including using the exo-brake to de-orbit high-altitude nanosatellites at end of mission to reduce issues related to orbital debris,” according to the team. “Additionally, drag modulation has uses for sample return from low-Earth orbit as well as tailoring orbits during aero-pass maneuvers for future planetary applications.”
The TechEdSat-15 project is managed by NASA Ames Research Center and funded by the NASA Ames Engineering Directorate with San Jose State University being a partner.
Libre Space Foundation’s PicoBus deployer will release several picosatellites with a mission focused on testing various technology for telecommunications.