Rocket Report: SpaceX Focused on Spacecraft Return; Firefly may be for sale

Zoom in / A Falcon 9 rocket launches mission NROL-146 from California this week.


Welcome to Rocket Report version 6.45! The most interesting news launching this week, to me, is that Firefly will likely be on sale. This leaves two of the few US companies with ready-to-use rockets, Firefly and United Launch Alliance, actively on display. I’ll be fascinated to see the final reviews for each if/when sales happen.

As always, we are Reader submissions are welcomeIf you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small, medium and heavy missiles as well as a quick look at the next three launches on the calendar.

Firefly may be for sale. Firefly Aerospace investors are considering a sale that could value the rocket and lunar lander manufacturer at about $1.5 billion. Bloomberg reports. The rocket company’s primary owner, AE Industrial Partners, is working with an advisor on “strategic options” for Firefly. Neither AE nor Firefly commented to Bloomberg about the potential sale. AE invested $75 million in Texas-based Firefly as part of a Series B funding round in 2022. The company made a follow-up investment in a Series C round in November 2023.

Launches and landings …Now more than a decade later and with a history of financial struggles, Firefly has emerged as one of the clear winners in the small U.S. launch race. The company’s Alpha rocket has so far been launched four times since its unsuccessful debut in September 2021, and is scheduled to fly on a Venture Class Launch Services 2 mission for NASA in the coming weeks. Firefly also aims to launch its Blue Ghost spacecraft to the Moon later this year and is working on an orbital transfer vehicle.

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Blue Origin is making a successful return to flight. With retired Air Force Captain and test pilot Ed Dwight as the primary passenger, Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft returned to flight Sunday morning. An African-American, Dwight was one of 26 pilots recommended by the Air Force to NASA for the third class of astronauts in 1963, but the agency did not select him. It took another 20 years for the first black American astronaut, Guy Bluford, to fly into space in 1983. At the age of 90, Dwight finally entered the record books on Sunday, becoming the oldest person in space. “I thought I didn’t need her in my life,” Dwight said after Sunday’s fight. “But I lied!”

One waterfall down … It was the seventh time that Blue Origin, the space company owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, has flown people into suborbital space, and the 25th flight overall for the company’s fleet of New Shepard rockets. It was the first time Blue Origin had launched people in nearly two years, as it resumed suborbital service after a rocket failure on an unmanned research flight in September 2022. In December, Blue Origin launched another unmanned suborbital research mission to pave the way for the resumption of Unmanned research mission. Human Expeditions Sunday. There was one problem with the flight: only two of the capsule’s three parachutes deployed. It is unclear how long it will take to address this issue.

RFA tests the first stage of its rocket. German launch company Rocket Factory Augsburg announced Sunday that it has begun a hot firing campaign for the first stage of its RFA One rocket. “We fired a total of four Helix engines, and they ignited one after the other at four-second intervals,” The company said On social media site It’s a great step forward for the launch company.

We are targeting a test flight this year, however …Tested at Saxford Spaceport in the UK. The RFA One vehicle is powered by nine Helix engines and will have a payload capacity of 1.6 metric tons to low Earth orbit. The company is targeting a debut later this year, but I’m somewhat skeptical about that. By comparison, SpaceX began test firing the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket in 2008, with a full test launch of all nine engines in November of that year. But the missile did not make its maiden flight until June 2010.

China expands commercial spaceport. China is planning new phases of expansion of its new commercial spaceport to support the expected increase in launches and commercial space activity. Space news reports. Construction of the second launch pad at the commercial launch site in Hainan could be completed by the end of May. The first, completed in December and intended for the Long March 8 rocket, could host its first launch before the end of June.

Satisfying a huge need …But it seems that this is just the beginning, as the spaceport could contain a total of 10 platforms serving liquid and solid rockets. The reason for the major expansion appears to be to increase access to space and allow China to achieve the launch rate needed to build a pair of massive low-Earth orbit constellations, each more than 10,000 satellites strong. It is also another sign of China’s commitment to creating a thriving commercial space sector. (Submitted by Ken Penn)

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