WASHINGTON, D.C. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) has awarded multiple Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) contracts to provide small satellites (SmallSats) — also called CubeSats, microsats or nanosatellites — access to low-Earth orbit.
The three companies selected to provide these new commercial launch capabilities, and the value of their firm fixed-price contracts, are:
Firefly Space Systems Inc. of Cedar Park, Texas, $5.5 million
Rocket Lab USA Inc. of Los Angeles, $6.9 million
Virgin Galactic LLC of Long Beach, California, $4.7 million
Via Satellite has an interesting report on a smallsat launcher panel that took place last Thursday during the Hosted Payload and SmallSat Summit in Washington, D.C. The panel, which included executives from DARPA, Firefly Space Systems, Spaceflight Industries and Virgin Galactic, featured discussion on the relative merits of reusability vs. mass production of launchers.
“I think everyone can unanimously agree that costs are far too high in launch,” said P.J. King, co-founder of Firefly. “There are many reasons for that, but if you are going to approach the problem of reducing cost, you’ve effectively got two ways to do it: one is to mass produce and lower the unit costs on an expendable vehicle. The other way is to create a reusable vehicle. We have an eye on both.”
…Not all are pursuing reusability — Rocket Lab,for example, posits that expendable launchers are better for the pace of its business — but rapid manufacture is nearly unanimous, with modular systems dominating most approaches.
King said mass production is the easier of the two, and constitutes Firefly’s primary focus for its early rocket development. Founded less than two years ago, the company recently test fired its first stage engine for Firefly Alpha, a dedicated SmallSat launch vehicle designed to deliver 400kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Firefly plans to build as many as 50 Alpha vehicles per year.
“We are going to be doing three to four suborbital launches first — starting in 2017 to assure people — before we kick into orbital flights in the first quarter 2018,” said King.
Richard DalBello, VP of business development and government relations at Virgin Galactic, said the revamped rocket is now much more aligned with the size of the small satellites the company sees in the market, but that the upgrade will require switching from WhiteknightTwo to a larger carrier aircraft.
“We hope to be starting test launches in the latter part of 2017 with commercial operations in 2018. For a lot of the companies we are talking to, that’s a timeframe that works out well; that’s a planning cycle that works. If we can hit those marks, we think that there will be demand in that time period,” he said.
If the current schedule holds, Virgin Galactic’s revamped LauncherOne program will enter commercial service sometime in 2018 after roughly a decade of development. During that period, the program has been redefined several times, lost two of the key people hired to lead it, and changed its launch platform from WhiteKnightTwo to a jumbo jet. The estimates for the initial flight tests also have slipped by about four years from 2013 to 2017.
Below is a timeline of the program’s major events, milestones, announcements, hires and departures, and other things. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything significant.
There are at least 20 launch vehicles under development around the world designed to launch small satellite payloads weighing up to 1,000 kg (2,205 lb).
That was the conclusion of a recent survey by Carlos Niederstrasser and Warren Frick of Orbital ATK. They presented their results in a paper titled, “Small Launch Vehicles – A 2015 State of the Industry Survey,” during the Smallsat 2015 conference in Utah last month.
CEDAR PARK, Texas, September 17, 2015 (Firefly PR) — Firefly Space Systems, Inc., a New Space developer of dedicated launch vehicles for the small satellite market, announced today that aerospace veteran Anne Chinnery has joined its growing team as the company’s first Launch and Test Director. She will report to and work directly with Firefly Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Thomas Markusic.
Ms. Chinnery brings almost three decades of active experience working at leading aerospace industry organizations both in the public and private sectors. She served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, where she managed test and launch activities at Vandenberg Air Force Base (AFB) and most recently served in similar senior roles at leading New Space companies. Ms. Chinnery holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the Air Force Academy and Master’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, with specialties in rocket propulsion and attitude dynamics.
CEDAR PARK, Texas, Sept. 9, 2015 (Firefly PR) — Firefly Space Systems, Inc., a New Space developer of dedicated launch vehicles for the small satellite market, announced today the completion of its brand new 200-acre test facility in Briggs, Texas, located just 25 miles from their main engineering office based in Cedar Park.
CEDAR PARK, Texas, Sept. 10, 2015 (Firefly PR) — Firefly Space Systems, the Texas-based developer of dedicated launch vehicles for the small satellite market, announced today that it has successfully tested its first rocket engine, Firefly Rocket Engine Research 1 (“FRE-R1”).
Video Caption: In this edition of Real Conversations, Firefly Founder and CEO Tom Markusic talks with Hedgeye’s Keith McCullough about the growing demand for efficient & inexpensive small satellite launches, his experiences working with entrepreneur Elon Musk, and why Firefly is poised to disrupt the new space landscape.
AUSTIN, Texas, February 19, 2015 (Firefly PR) — Firefly Space Systems, Inc., developers of dedicated light satellite launch vehicles for the small satellite market, announces the addition of Bradspace Ltd. to its growing team.
Based in Surrey in the UK, Bradspace and its small satellite consultants will provide representation for Firefly throughout Europe. Bradspace will liaison with European customers to provide launch services on Firefly’s family of launch vehicles. With many years of experience in the small satellite industry, Bradspace will also assist Firefly in ensuring that launch services are ideally tailored and suited to small satellites, which form the core of Firefly’s business.
AUSTIN, Texas (Austin Chamber of Commerce PR) –Opportunity Austin, the Austin Chamber of Commerce’s five-county economic development initiative, has announced the addition of Space Technology & Exploration as one of its key industries for future economic development. The announcement was made today at the Austin Chamber’s Annual Meeting.
As a $314 billion market, Opportunity Austin recognizes the demand for growth in space exploration and technology including satellites, launch providers, spacecraft components, in-space services, software and robotics. This designation by Opportunity Austin opens the door for job expansion, development of industry and the recognition of the greater Austin region as a player in the rapidly- growing market of commercial space exploration and related technologies.
AUSTIN, Texas (Firefly PR) — Firefly Space Systems, Inc. (“Firefly”), a small satellite launch company, is pleased to announce it has entered into a Space Act Agreement (SAA) with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama.
The agreement’s intended purpose is for Firefly and NASA to collaborate as related to the design and commercial development of Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle, specifically in the areas of technical consultation, engineering services, and concept/design reviews.
AUSTIN, Texas, October 14, 2014 (Firefly PR) — Firefly Space Systems, Inc., a ground-based, small satellite launch company, announces the hiring of spacecraft design veteran Shey Sabripour as its Chief Technical Officer. Mr. Sabripour brings over two decades of experience as Director of Spacecraft Design at Lockheed Martin and will be taking responsibility of the company’s launch vehicles as well as avionics design and development.
“We are thrilled to welcome Shey on board,” said Firefly Co-founder & COO PJ King. “Attracting the world’s top engineering talent is absolutely critical for technology companies and Shey is precisely that. He brings a wealth of satellite design experience and will be invaluable in ensuring we provide our satellite customers with unparalleled launch service.”
CEDAR PARK, TX, September 25, 2014 (Firefly PR) — Firefly Space Systems announced today that it will receive up to $1,225,000 in incentives and employment grants from The City of Cedar Park Economic Development Corporation following the rocket company’s recent relocation from Hawthorne, California to its new home in Cedar Park, Texas. Firefly’s expansion plans include building its team in Central Texas to 200 employees with an annual payroll of approximately $12 million by 2019.
The company also plans to invest approximately $7.5 million in property, plant and equipment over the duration of the 10-year agreement with Cedar Park. Current negotiations for an undisclosed 20,000-square-foot office location for Firefly are also nearing finalization.
HAWTHORNE, Calif., Sept. 4, 2014 (Firefly Space Systems PR) — FIREFLY SPACE SYSTEMS today announced that it has joined the Autodesk® Cleantech Partner Program, which will allow the company to begin designing and advancing the next-generation of cleaner burning rockets. Firefly’s rockets, which will use highly efficient liquefied natural gas (LNG), will not produce any soot like the kind currently common in kerosene and solid rocket engine combustion. Particulates in the upper atmosphere, like soot, are recognized as a major contributor to atmospheric heating.
Video Caption: TMRO is a crowd funded show. If you enjoyed this episode, consider contributing to the show, allowing us to expand and do cool new things. Even as little as $1/ep can make a high difference – http://www.patreon.com/tmro
We bring on guest PJ King the COO of Firefly Space Systems to talk about their Flirefly Alpha and Firefly Beta rockets. Interview starts at 12:43
Space News: 1:40 – F9R-Dev1 Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly 5:38 – ULA gets their RD-180 Engines 7:30 – Launch of LongMarch 4B with Gaofen-2 and BRITE-PL-2 9:20 – Galileo launch via Soyuz
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