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DeepSpace: Firefly’s Alpha rocket to get a massive upgrade with ion thruster boost stage – Teslarati

DeepSpace: Firefly’s Alpha rocket to get a massive upgrade with ion thruster boost stage – Teslarati

Eric Ralph · June 18th, 2019 Welcome to the latest edition of DeepSpace! Each week, Teslarati space reporter Eric Ralph hand-crafts this newsletter to give you a breakdown of what’s happening in the space industry and what you need to know. To receive this newsletter (and others) directly and join our member-only Slack group, give us a 3-month…

Eric Ralph · June 18th, 2019

Welcome to the most modern version of DeepSpace! A week, Teslarati region reporter Eric Ralph hand-crafts this e-newsletter to give you a breakdown of what’s happening in the region commerce and what you might possibly objective receive to grab. To receive this e-newsletter (and others) without delay and be half of our member-most efficient Slack group, give us a 3-month trial for ultimate $5.


Though the firm quietly teased the theorem that for the first time quite a lot of months up to now, Firefly has released a detailed replace on its Orbital Switch Automobile (OTV), an fearless spacecraft meant to enhance its Alpha and Beta originate automobiles. If Firefly can stick with it the self reliant spacecraft’s technical promises, the aggregate of Alpha (~$15M) and OTV might possibly support herald a brand original period of tiny, excessive-efficiency satellites launched on tiny, excessive-efficiency rockets.

In level of reality, Rocket Lab – presently the arena’s most efficient really industrial smallsat originate provider – has already demonstrated the ability of this original paradigm, albeit on a smaller scale. After ultimate one failed strive, the first worthwhile orbital originate of the firm’s Electron rocket also marked the shock debut of a itsy-bitsy third stage archaic to circularize the payload’s orbit. After five worthwhile uses in orbit, Rocket Lab has taken its third stage a step extra, adding redundant avionics, photo voltaic arrays, and extra to effectively develop an self reliant spacecraft/satellite bus called Photon. By all appearances, Firefly’s OTV is great better than Photon nonetheless is functionally moderately identical. By making the most of Alpha’s most important efficiency advantages when in contrast with Electron, Firefly has designed a third stage/spacecraft in a position to handing over many of of kilograms to geostationary orbit, the Moon, and (in all likelihood) past.

Altering the delta V game

  • Typically talking, OTV is terribly tiny. In step with Firefly’s Payload Person’s E-book, the spacecraft will weigh ultimate 130 kg (285 lb) dry and will receive to still raise in all likelihood 30-70 kg of xenon gas for its electric ion thrusters. Right here’s a serious differentiator relative to Rocket Lab’s Photon and kick stage, which depend on the inefficient (nonetheless straightforward and legit) Curie chemical rocket engine.
    • In step with Firefly, Alpha is designed to originate a max of 1000 kg (2200 lb) to a 200 km (125 mi) low Earth orbit (LEO). Given OTV’s ~200 kg wet mass, Alpha + OTV provide some good capabilities relative to the rocket’s size and develop.
    • Great electric thrusters undeniably add moderately quite a lot of complexity to any spacecraft that chooses to make exercise of them nonetheless that concern is in general deemed price it for the advantages they’ll provide. Most critically, ion propulsion is amazingly efficient.
This graph demonstrates the aptitude efficiency advantages of Alpha + OTV relative to Alpha on its dangle. (Firefly)
  • Thanks to OTV’s efficient electric thrusters and mild carbon composite structure, the capacity advantages of Alpha + OTV are laborious to be aware of for a rocket as (rather) tiny as Alpha.
  • By itself, Alpha can most efficient raise a most important payload (~100 kg) to in all likelihood 4000 km (2500 mi). With OTV, Alpha can raise ~600 kg to a circular geostationary orbit (~36,000 km, 22,300 mi) and upwards of 400-500 kg into orbit across the Moon.
    • For reference, no topic weighing around 10% of Falcon 9, Alpha and OTV would provide in all likelihood 10-15% the efficiency of Falcon 9 to trans lunar injection (TLI). This totally defies the smartly-liked rule of thumb that as a rocket will get vastly smaller, its efficiency (namely to better-vitality orbits) deteriorates disproportionately.
  • With OTV, Alpha – nominally a ~$15M originate automobile relegated to LEO payloads – turns into an incredibly nice looking option for tiny geostationary communications satellites and tiny-scale public and inner most exploration of the Moon, shut to Earth asteroids, and even in all likelihood Mars/Venus.
  • In step with a senior Firefly investor and board member, Firefly hopes to receive OTV ready for its orbital debut on Alpha’s third originate, tentatively scheduled no earlier than mid-2020.

Alpha readies for originate

  • Obviously, OTV is a chook without wings without Firefly’s Alpha originate automobile. Weighing 54,000 kg (120,000 lb) fully-fueled, Alpha is a two-stage rocket that will stand 1.8m (6ft) wide and 29m (95ft) tall. Powered by four Reaver engines, the first stage will originate ~740 kN (166,000 lbf), roughly 85% of thought to be one of Falcon 9’s 9 Merlin 1D engines.
  • Firefly is working relentlessly against an fearless December 2019 Alpha originate debut, a target that will doubtlessly ride into early 2020 due to the inherent complexity of the assignment at hand. Seriously, though, Firefly has made a enormous quantity of progress against that aim.
    • Particularly, Firefly’s 2d stage – powered by one vacuum-optimized Lightning engine – has already been qualified for originate with corpulent-duration static fires at the firm’s Texas companies and products. Firefly is in the course of making ready for an a linked assortment of qualification assessments for its extra extremely effective first stage, shown above in the dangle of one Reaver engine linked to an Alpha S1 thrust structure.
    • As early as July, a corpulent spot of four Reaver engines will be installed on the a linked thrust structure to create static fireplace sorting out, great like SpaceX progressively added Merlin 1D engines at some level of Falcon 9 development sorting out.
  • If all goes as planned, Firefly will receive completed its first Alpha rocket – first stage, 2d stage, and payload fairing – by October or November 2019. Ask masses of most modern pictures and updates as Alpha nears its inaugural originate.
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– Eric


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