Firefly Aerospace partners with Aerojet Rocketdyne

By Paul Brinkmann
Firefly Aerospace, which announced a partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne, plans to build a rocket plant in Florida. Image courtesy of Firefly Aerospace
Firefly Aerospace, which announced a partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne, plans to build a rocket plant in Florida. Image courtesy of Firefly Aerospace

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Rocket startup company Firefly Aerospace said Friday it will partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne, a defense and aircraft contractor with roots dating to 1942.

One of the first projects on which the two will collaborate is 3D printing of Firefly's engines, according to the formal announcement.


"This means we'll have access to the very significant expertise that Aerojet has developed over decades," said Eric Salwan, director of commercial business development at Firefly. "We'll be able to work to develop solutions better than we could separately."

Firefly plans to launch its first rocket, named Firefly Alpha, in 2020, and also plans to build a rocket plant near NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The company, based near Austin, Texas, is aiming at small and medium launchers to low-Earth orbit, geosynchronous orbit and the moon.

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"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 (3D printing) and mission assurance for commercial, national security and exploration missions," the official announcement said.

"We will take advantage of Firefly's mature launch vehicle designs, Aerojet Rocketdyne's advanced propulsion systems and the world-class technological capabilities of both companies," Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake said in a statement.


She said the companies intend to pursue national security satellite launch contracts.

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The partnership comes as some launch industry analysts have said there are too many new players in the small launch industry and not all will survive. One potential competitor, rocket startup Vector Launch, based in Tucson, Ariz., said in August it was "undertaking a pause of operations."

The first flight of Firefly's small-satellite rocket, Alpha, is scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2020 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Firefly is renovating launch pads at Vandenberg and at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Firefly said Aerojet Rocketdyne will have "increased influence" over the design of eventual second-generation Alpha rocket engines.

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"Our cooperation with Aerojet Rocketdyne is a significant differentiator in the small to medium launch vehicle market and will enable rapid performance increases of the Alpha vehicle," Firefly CEO Tom Markusic said in a news release about the partnership.

Aerojet Rocketdyne also will work on Firefly's Orbital Transfer Vehicle, which transfers small payloads between orbits.

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