Firefly Aerospace embarked on a momentous mission this morning as it launched the Alpha rocket into orbit. This groundbreaking achievement was made possible by a collaboration with Lockheed Martin, who provided the payload for this epic journey into space. However, despite the successful launch, there have been no updates yet from Firefly on the deployment of the satellite into its designated orbit. This lack of information could indicate a potential issue with the rocket’s second stage.
This launch marks the fourth time that Firefly has sent its Alpha rocket into flight. The liftoff took place at California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base at 9:32 AM local time. Named “Fly the Lightning,” the mission was a commercial endeavor for its leading customer, Lockheed Martin. The rocket was carrying Lockheed’s innovative payload, the Electronically Steerable Antenna (ESA) technology demonstrator, to low Earth orbit.
Around 9:40 AM local time, Firefly released a tweet stating that it would be relighting the Alpha’s second stage engine in approximately 40 minutes to circularize its orbit. Once completed, the Lockheed Martin payload was expected to be deployed. However, four hours have passed, and there is still no update from the company.
The ESA is an antenna array that can be electronically controlled. According to Lockheed, their patented design will significantly reduce the time needed to calibrate the new ESA sensor compared to traditional on-orbit sensors, which can take months to power on and become fully operational. The ESA demonstrator payload was integrated into a satellite bus produced by Terran Orbital, with Lockheed owning nearly 7% of the company’s outstanding shares.
While the primary goal of this mission is to successfully deploy the payload into orbit, Firefly is also keen to track the total working hours from receiving the payload to launch readiness. This data is crucial in showcasing the company’s ability to provide the Space Force with rapid launch capabilities – a top priority for the organization. Firefly has already proven its capability once during the previous Alpha mission, where it achieved a record-breaking launch readiness time of just 24 hours. For that mission, Firefly had to finalize launch preparations, encapsulate the payload, and attach it to the rocket in only one day.