Firefly to launch Alpha from Wallops

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun25,2024

WASHINGTON — Firefly Aerospace announced June 24 it plans to launch its Alpha rocket from the same pad at Wallops Island, Virginia, used by the Antares rocket, rather than from Cape Canaveral as previously planned.

The company said that it would use Pad 0A at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island for Alpha launches, starting as soon as 2025. The launch pad, built for the Antares rocket, will continue to be used for the revised Antares 330 Northrop Grumman is developing in collaboration with Firefly as well as the larger Medium Launch Vehicle (MLV) the companies are building.

The company says launching from Wallops, in addition to its existing pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, will allow it to serve more customers. Wallops can support launches to lower inclination orbits than feasible from Vandenberg, which is best suited for sun-synchronous and other high-inclination orbits.

“Virginia Spaceport Authority further sets us up for success by enabling a streamlined approach to launching both Alpha and MLV from one location at MARS with minimal congestion from the broader launch market,” Bill Weber, chief executive of Firefly, said in a statement, referring to the organization that operates MARS for the state of Virginia.

Firefly spokesperson Risa Schnautz said that “minimal modifications” to Pad 0A will be required for Alpha launches. The company is building a pad interface specific to Alpha and will take advantage of existing infrastructure for fueling the rocket and commodities.

The news is welcome for Virginia officials, who have been working to attract more orbital launch business to Wallops particularly during the hiatus in Antares launches. Rocket Lab built its Launch Complex 2 pad for Electron next to Pad 0A and has used it for a handful of launches. It is also building Launch Complex 3 next door for its larger Neutron rocket, which will be assembled near MARS.

Firefly had previously planned to conduct Alpha launches from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, signing an agreement to use Space Launch Complex 20 there in 2019. Those plans, at one point, called for Firefly to establish an Alpha manufacturing facility in the same industrial park just outside the gates of the Kennedy Space Center that hosts factories for Blue Origin and Airbus OneWeb Satellites.

“With Firefly conducting all its Alpha missions in a rapid cadence for its customers, it is prioritizing operations on Wallops Island while maintaining its relationship at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station,” the company said in a statement. “Wallops also answers the market demand for diverse launch locations and easing launch schedule constraints on the East Coast.”

The rapid increase in launches at Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center has raised concerns in both industry and government about the strain on resources there and lack of available pads for new entrants. That launch activity, though, has been driven almost exclusively by one company, SpaceX, launching from KSC’s Launch Complex 39A and Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 40.

Firefly noted in its statement that using Wallops “brings much needed diversity and resiliency to the U.S. launch range options for its customers” while also making use of existing infrastructure at MARS.

The announcement comes days before Alpha returns to flight from Vandenberg. Firefly announced late June 21 that it was preparing for an Alpha launch scheduled for June 27 at 12 a.m. Eastern (9 p.m. Pacific June 26) at the opening of a half-hour window. The “Noise of Summer” mission will deploy eight NASA-sponsored smallsats into low Earth orbit under a NASA Venture Class Launch Services Demo 2 contract.

The launch will be the first for Alpha since a December 2023 flight carrying a Lockheed Martin technology demonstration payload. On that mission, the rocket’s upper stage failed to relight, stranding the satellite in an orbit with a low perigee. That caused the spacecraft to reenter within several weeks, although Lockheed said it was able to complete the objectives of that mission in that accelerated timeframe.

Firefly blamed the incident on a software problem. In its statement about the plans to use Wallops, the company said it expects to conduct up to four Alpha launches this year and six in 2025, with monthly launches projected in 2026.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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