IG Audit: NASA Planetary Program Faces Major Financial, Managerial Challenges

Dragonfly flying over the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) faces a series of managerial, financial and personnel challenges as it prepares to conduct a series of ever more ambitious missions to the moon and planets, according to a new audit by the space agency’s Office of Inspector General (IG).

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SpaceX, Boeing & Firefly File FCC Applications for Fall Flights

Starship hopper under construction at Boca Chica. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has applied for a temporary Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license to fly its Starship prototype to an altitude of 20 km (12.4 miles) from its Boca Chica test site in Texas.

The approval would be valid for hops from Oct. 11, 2020 to April 11, 2021. Starship prototypes have flown to an altitude of 150 meters from Boca Chica.

Boeing has filed for a FCC license for its second Starliner orbital flight test. The application covers a six-month period from Nov. 1, 2020 to May 1, 2021.

The uncrewed Starliner test is a repeat of a flight that went awry last December. The spacecraft failed to dock with the space station due to software and communications problems.

Firefly Aerospace has filed for approval for the maiden flight of its Firefly Alpha booster from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The approval would be valid from Nov. 21, 2020 until May 21, 2021.

Apha is designed to loft 1 metric ton into low Earth orbit and 630 kg into a 500 km sun synchronous orbit at a dedicated mission cost of $15 million.

Firefly Aerospace Documentary Trailer

Video Caption: «Launching a rocket into space is the hardest job you can choose».

The official trailer of the documentary about Firefly Aerospace, a Ukrainian-American rocket company, owned by Max Polyakov.

The fascinating and twisting path of Firefly Aerospace from its inception to the planned launch of Alpha rocket in 2020.

How Firefly Aerospace has survived and developed into one of the big names in private space exploration alongside such well-known ventures as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and others. Elon Musk, Jeffrey Bezos, Richard Branson and Max Polyakov – what do these people have in common? How their businesses are affecting the modern space industry.

The creators of the film, Edwards Media studio based in Austin (Texas, USA), began making an independent documentary about Firefly Aerospace in 2016. They strived to capture everything to make a complete story to show how this company is changing the world.

Subscribe to our channel to learn about the development of the space industry in Ukraine and the world. Here we collect various business stories about the international entrepreneur in the fields of space technology and IT – Max Polyakov. He is the managing partner of Noosphere Ventures Investment Fund and the founder of Firefly Aerospace, EOS DA, SETS, Renatus, Maxpay, and others. He is also the ideological inspiration of the Noosphere Association.

🔘 Firefly Aerospace is a private aerospace company that develops light launch vehicles designed to launch cargo into space. The first launch of the Alpha launch vehicle is scheduled for 2020.

Benchmark Space Systems Secures Agreement with Tesseract Space To Provide Full Spectrum of Green In-Space Propulsion Solutions for Small Satellites

BURLINGTON, Vermont, August 5, 2020 – Benchmark Space Systems, a leading provider of in-space propulsion systems for small satellites, today announced a permanent licensing partnership to integrate Tesseract Space intellectual property, assets, and staff to elevate Benchmark’s major expansion in the development, deployment and support of its exclusively non-toxic chemical propulsion solutions for global rideshare markets.

Both Benchmark and Tesseract were founded in 2017 on green propulsion technologies designed to safely and quickly deliver small rideshare satellites the last leg of their space journey to an allotted orbital location, often in hours versus weeks using electric propulsion. Benchmark’s non-toxic propulsion solutions offer as much as one-thousand times the thrust of electric systems.

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Firefly Applies for FCC Permit for September Launch From Vandenberg

Firefly Aerospace has applied for a permit from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a launch of its Alpha booster on Sept. 6-7 from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB) in California.

“Once the launch vehicle reaches the mission altitude of 300 km, it will deploy commercial payloads into orbit. “The second stage will complete one full orbit while it downlinks data to VAFB and KSAT ground station locations in Hawaii, Mauritius, and South Africa,” the company said in its application.

Firefly has not yet launched the Alpha booster, which is designed to orbit small satellites.

Firefly Aerospace Achieves AS9100 Quality Certification

Important quality milestone reached as Firefly transitions from developmental phase to first launch of the Firefly Alpha rocket

CEDAR PARK, Texas, May 6, 2020 (Firefly Aerospace PR) – Firefly Aerospace, Inc., a leading provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, today announced it has secured AS9100 quality certification as it advances from developmental to production phase ahead of the inaugural flight of its Alpha launch vehicle later this year.

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Firefly Aerospace and Spaceflight Inc. Sign Launch Services Agreement

CEDAR PARK, Texas/SEATTLE, April 22, 2020 (Firefly Aerospace PR) – Firefly Aerospace, Inc., a leading provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft, and in-space services, and Spaceflight Inc., the leading launch services and mission management provider, today announced they have signed a Launch Services Agreement (LSA). The agreement confirms that Spaceflight will secure the majority of the payload mass aboard a Firefly Alpha launch, scheduled for lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in 2021.

In addition to being the anchor customer, Spaceflight will sign, manage, integrate, and deploy multiple payloads on the flight, enabling Firefly to maximize its full 630 kilogram launch capacity on the commercial Alpha mission to Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO). Also, according to the LSA, Spaceflight will help maximize payload capacity aboard future Firefly Alpha launches.

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SATLANTIS Enters into Launch Services Agreement with Firefly Aerospace

CEDAR PARK, Texas, Feb. 4, 2020 (Firefly Aerospace PR) — Firefly Aerospace, Inc.(Firefly), a provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft and in-space services, announced today the execution of a Launch Services Agreement with SATLANTIS, a provider of high-performance payload technologies for Earth observation and remote sensing.

Beginning in 2022, SATLANTIS will utilize the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle to deploy a constellation of satellites with breakthrough high-resolution multispectral cameras with four bands of 80 cm native resolution.

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Fire Breaks Out at Firefly Test Site; No Injuries Reported

UPDATE: Firefly Aerospace Issued an updated statement today:

Firefly Aerospace maintains a 200-acre manufacturing and test facility in Briggs, Texas, 27 miles north of its headquarters.

On January 22, 2020, test engineers were conducting a planned test of the first stage of the company’s “Alpha” launch vehicle. The test was to be the first in a series of propulsion tests to verify design and operation of the stage, and involved a short, 5-second firing of the stage’s four engines.

At 6:23 pm local time, the stage’s engines were fired, and a fire broke out in the engine bay at the base of the rocket’s stage. The 5-second test was immediately aborted and the test facility’s fire suppression system extinguished the fire. The cause of the anomaly is under investigation. Firefly engineers are reviewing test data from the stage to identify potential causes for the test failure, and Firefly will share results of that investigation once it is complete.

Firefly is committed to workplace safety, and at no time during the test were Firefly operations personnel or the public in danger. Firefly is coordinating closely with local authorities and emergency response personnel as it investigates the anomaly and refines its contingency procedures.

Firefly Aerospace has said a fuel leak on the test stand caused a fire on Wednesday. The company was preparing for a static fire of the company’s Alpha small-satellite booster.

During testing this evening we experienced a test anomaly resulting in a small fire on our test stand. The fire was quickly extinguished by our fire suppression systems on the stand and the local community emergency response team quickly responded. Both the test stand and our rocket are intact. At no time was there any risk to individuals on site or the community.

In a series of tweets, local authorities said they ordered an evacuation of residents living within 1 mile (.6 km) of the Texas test site “out of an abundance of caution.” They also temporarily closed nearby roads.

Firefly is preparing for a maiden launch of the Alpha rocket this spring.

ISILAUNCH Signs Launch Services Agreement with Firefly Aerospace

CEDAR PARK, Texas, January 21, 2020 (Firefly Aerospace PR) – Firefly Aerospace, Inc.(Firefly), a provider of economical and dependable launch vehicles, spacecraft and in-space services, announced today the execution of a Launch Services Agreement with Innovative Space Logistics BV (ISILAUNCH), a launch services subsidiary of Netherlands based ISIS – Innovative Solutions in Space B.V. (ISISPACE). Under the agreement, ISILAUNCH will offer to its customers multiple dedicated and rideshare launch opportunities on the Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle, on missions beginning in 2020.

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Original Firefly Shareholders Sue Firefly’s Markusic, Polyakov Alleging Fraud

Tom Markusic

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A group of original shareholders in the defunct Firefly Space Systems have accused co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic of fraudulently conspiring with Ukrainian billionaire Maxym Polyakov to force the rocket company into bankruptcy in 2017 and reconstitute it under a nearly identical name without giving them any stake in the new venture.

Markusic “betrayed the trust of his original co-founders and investors and committed fraud to cut them out of his aerospace company. Instead of managing the operations of the Original Firefly, a revolutionary rocket company with endless potential, Markusic schemed with…Maxym Polyakov…to rob Plaintiffs of their investments and form a new company called Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (the ‘New Firefly’),” the plaintiffs said in a lawsuit.

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Firefly Aerospace Announces DREAM Payload Participants

CEDAR PARK, Texas, Nov. 19, 2019 (Firefly Aerospace PR) — Firefly Aerospace (Firefly) announced this past summer the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM), a global competition to host academic and educational payloads as rideshare participants on the inaugural flight of the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle. Today we are happy to announce the payloads selected to fly on Alpha’s maiden flight to support and stimulate STEM on a global basis.  There are 26 DREAM payloads representing 7 different countries.

The payloads are broken down into two categories, nontechnical and technical. Nontechnical payloads include children’s artwork, messages from children in pediatric hospitals and photographs of previous space missions. Technical payloads range from 3U to 27U satellites supplied by prominent universities and nonprofits from around the globe.

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Aerojet Rocketdyne and Firefly Aerospace to Provide Flexible Access to Space

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 18, 2019 (Aerojet Rocketdyne/Firefly Aerospace PR) — Aerojet Rocketdyne and Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (Firefly) are pleased to announce a cooperative agreement that combines the capabilities of both companies to provide flexible, sustainable and highly competitive space access solutions.

Aerojet Rocketdyne and Firefly will serve the growing government and commercial market by providing dedicated small and medium launch capabilities to low Earth orbit (LEO), geosynchronous orbit (GEO) and the Moon. This collaboration will leverage Firefly’s new family of launch vehicles and in-space services with Aerojet Rocketdyne’s experience in propulsion development, additive manufacturing and mission assurance for commercial, national security and exploration missions.

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USAF Selects 8 Companies to Compete for Launch Contracts

The U.S. Air Force has selected eight companies to compete for $986 worth of launch contracts under its Orbital Services Program-4 (OSP-4) program. The companies include:

  • Aevum Inc., Huntsville, Ala.;
  • Firefly Black LLC, Cedar Park, Texas;
  • Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, Chandler, Ariz.;
  • Rocket Lab USA Inc., Huntington Beach, Calif.;
  • Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, Calif.;
  • United Launch Alliance, Centennial, Colo.;
  • VOX Space LLC., El Segundo, Calif.;
  • Xbow Launch Systems Inc., Auburn, Calif.;

“The contract seeks to capitalize on the emerging small launch providers while providing dedicated and primary launch services to the Department of Defense and other government agencies,” the U.S. Air Force said in announcing the selections.

“The program allows for the rapid acquisition of launch services to meet mission requirements for payloads greater than 400 pounds, enabling launch to any orbit within 12-24 months from task order award,” the announcement added.

The eight companies will be competitive for indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, firm-fixed-price contracts under OSP-4.