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Rocket startup Firefly signs satellite constellation launch mission with Satlantis

Darrell Etherington
An engine test in development of Firefly's Alpha launch vehicle.

Rocket launch startup Firefly Aerospace has signed a new agreement with Satlantis, a maker of Earth observation and remote sensing payloads for satellite-based operation. Firefly will launch a constellation of small satellites on behalf of Satlantis that will provide high-res, multispectral imaging of Earth from low Earth orbit.

Firefly is still in the development and testing phase of their first launch vehicle, the Alpha rocket and spacecraft. The company intends to fly Alpha for the first time sometime this year, and the agreement signed today with Satlantis specifies a 2022 time frame for the mission.

Alpha is a two-stage rocket that uses a carbon composite material for its primary construction. It's around 95 feet tall, and can carry approximately 2,200 lbs to low Earth orbit. Like Rocket Lab, Firefly's goal is to provide an affordable option for small satellite customers to have dedicated launches, rather than relying on having to book rideshare missions, but it offers considerably more payload capacity.

Firefly has just begun running its "hot" fire tests of its engine with the vehicle vertical early in 2020, but it did encounter a setback at the end of January with a fire on the launch platform following the first of these tests. Firefly said the fire was due to a fuel leak, but continues work on Alpha and Firefly. CEO Tom Markusic told KVUE that it shouldn't affect their goal of having a first flight for the rocket by mid-year.