Rocket Report: Firefly Delivers Good Results for NASA; Polaris Dawn Launches This Month

Zoom in / Four kerosene-fired Reaver engines power Firefly’s Alpha rocket from the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Base in California.

Welcome to the 7.01 edition of the Rocket Report! We’re putting together this week’s report a day later than usual due to the Independence Day holiday. Ars is starting its seventh year of publishing this weekly roundup of rocket news, and there’s a lot of it this week despite the holiday here in the United States. Worldwide, there were 122 launches that flew into Earth’s orbit or beyond in the first half of 2024, up from 91 in the same period last year.

As always, we are We welcome readers’ contributions.And if you don’t want to miss a single release, 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 rockets as well as a quick look at the next three launches on the calendar.

Firefly has launched its fifth Alpha flight. Firefly Aerospace has launched eight cubesats into orbit on a NASA-funded mission in the first flight of the company’s Alpha rocket since an upper stage failure more than half a year ago. Space News ReportsThe two-stage Alpha rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Space Base in California late Wednesday, two days after a ground-equipment problem disrupted the launch before the engine ignited. The eight cubesats come from NASA centers and universities for a range of educational, research and technical missions. It was the fifth flight of Firefly’s Alpha rocket, which is capable of putting about a metric ton of payload into low Earth orbit.

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Solve the anomaly … This was Alpha’s fifth flight since 2021 and Alpha’s fourth to reach orbit. But Alpha’s last launch in December failed to place its Lockheed Martin payload into the proper orbit due to a problem during a second-stage engine re-ignition. On this week’s launch, Alpha deployed its NASA-sponsored payload after a single second-stage burn, then completed a successful engine re-ignition for a level-change maneuver. Engineers traced the problem on Alpha’s last flight to a software error. (Submitted by Ken the Bean)

Two companies have been added to the Department of Defense’s launch group. Blue Origin and Stoke Space Technologies — neither of which has yet reached orbit — have received approval from the U.S. Space Force to compete for future launches of small payloads, Urgent Defense ReportsBlue Origin and Stoke Space have joined the list of launch companies eligible to compete for Space Force launch mission orders through the Orbital Services Program 4 (OSP-4) contract. Under this contract, Space Systems Command procures launch services for payloads weighing 400 pounds (180 kilograms) or more, enabling launches 12 to 24 months after the mission order is awarded. The OSP-4 contract “focuses on small orbital launch capabilities and launch solutions for tactically responsive space mission needs,” said Lt. Col. Steve Hendershott, chief of Space Systems Command’s Small Launch and Targets Division.

twelve pairs …Blue Origin is aiming to launch its New Glenn orbital rocket for the first time in late September, while Stoke Space is aiming to launch its Nova rocket on an orbital test flight next year. The addition of these two companies means there are 12 providers eligible to bid on OSP-4 mission orders. The others are ABL Space Systems, Aevum, Astra, Firefly Aerospace, Northrop Grumman, Relativity Space, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and X-Bow. (Submitted by Ken the Bin and brianrhurley)

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Italian startup successfully tests launch of small rocket. Italian rocket builder Sidereus Space Dynamics has completed the first test of the integrated system for its EOS rocket, European Space Flight ReportsThe test, conducted on Sunday, culminated in the firing of the MR-5 rocket’s main engine, which runs on kerosene and liquid oxygen, for about 11 seconds. The EOS rocket is a new design, using a single-stage architecture to reach orbit, with the reusable booster returning to Earth from orbit for recovery under a parachute. The rocket is less than 14 feet (4.2 meters) tall and will be able to deliver about 29 pounds (13 kilograms) of payload to low Earth orbit.

lean process …After the company completes integrated ground testing, it will conduct the first low-altitude test flights of the EOS rocket. Sidereus, founded in 2019, has raised €6.6 million ($7.1 million) to fund the development of the EOS rocket. While that’s a fraction of the funding attracted by other European launch companies like Isar Aerospace, MaiaSpace and Orbex, Sidereus CEO Mattia Barbarossa has previously said the company intends to “reshape spaceflight in a fraction of the time and with limited resources.” (Submitted by EllPeaTea and Ken the Bin)

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