Firefly Aerospace pushes back first launch to 2020

By Paul Brinkmann
A digital sketch shows what a Firefly Alpha rocket might look like on the launch pad. Image courtesy of Firefly Aerospace
A digital sketch shows what a Firefly Alpha rocket might look like on the launch pad. Image courtesy of Firefly Aerospace

ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 5 (UPI) -- Firefly Aerospace, one of several new rocket companies working on orbital launch services, has pushed back its first launch to early 2020 due to supplier delays.

"We were trying for this year, but won't get there," Eric Salwan, Firefly's director of commercial business development told UPI. "Primarily, we are having issues with a few externally sourced components, such as the flight termination system."


Issues include late delivery of components and testing or qualifying them for launch, he said. "We are on very solid ground in terms of our funding. No change there."

Firefly said in February it had $1.3 billion in launch business lined up. It has been funded by Noosphere Ventures, the strategic venture arm of Noosphere Global. A leading investor in Noosphere is Ukrainian technologist and investor Max Polyakov.

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Since that time, at least one potential competitor, rocket startup Vector Launch, based in Tucson, Ariz., said it was "undertaking a pause of operations." Employees of Vector said they were being laid off.

In an effort to minimize delays caused by suppliers, Firefly says 90 percent of its new Alpha rocket will be made in house. It currently builds the rocket at its headquarters near Austin, Texas.


"The delay we are experiencing is why we want to make most of the rocket ourselves," Salwan said.

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Eventually, the company plans to build a rocket plant near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It also is renovating two old launch pads, one at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and one at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Space Florida, the state's marketing and development agency for space, is seeking $18.9 million in state funding for Firefly's operation, which is expected to support 239 jobs in Florida with anticipated annual average salaries of $70,000.

Dale Ketcham, a vice president with Space Florida, said Wednesday the agency has full confidence in Firefly.

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"They're like every other company that is trying to put something into orbit. It takes time and there are usually delays," Ketcham said. "We don't hand out the state's money easily. We don't guarantee any company that comes here will be successful, but so far we are pretty good at picking winners."

Firefly Aerospace is part of a cluster of companies that have kicked off a new chapter of space exploration in Florida. Other companies with major facilities in the state include SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and satellite manufacturer OneWeb.


Firefly will make smaller orbital rockets across the street from OneWeb's new satellite plant and near Blue Origin's factory for its larger New Glenn rockets. Firefly intends to offer relatively inexpensive launches for small satellites.

The company also plans a bigger rocket, Firefly Beta, and possibly a space plane, Firefly Gamma. It previously told Space Florida that it plans to invest $52 million into its plant and new launchpad facilities.

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