Firefly, a private aerospace firm founded in 2014, plans to launch small to medium sized satellites to orbit.
NASA awarded the contract as part of its “Venture Class Launch Services” which represents “NASA’s investment in the future of the commercial launch industry for SmallSats,” said Mark Wiese, chief of the FLight Projects Office for NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center.
CubeSats are small satellites, the size of a cube. They have opened up space research for NASA since the CubeSats can be launched from missions at different altitudes and in unique orbits not currently available from payload missions or launches from the International Space Station.
“The tiny, box-shaped spacecraft have emerged in the last 16 years as a quick viable way to test components and techniques that, if proven, can be applied to much larger missions where the stakes are far greater than a simple, 4-inch cube,” according to NASA. “The price tag for each mission is one-tenth the cost of the least-expensive traditional launcher.”
Firefly’s mission is to reduce the costs involved in launching satellites to space. Its first rocket, Firefly Alpha, “will be capable of lifting 400kg to a 400km equatorial orbit or 200kg to a 500km Sun-synchronous orbit.
“Being recognized by NASA with a VCLS contract is a tremendous honor for the Firefly team. We have worked tirelessly during the last 18 months to develop Firefly Alpha, a vehicle that will be different from anything that has come before it. NASA’s vote of confidence in our technology and team is a significant boost to our efforts of ‘Making Space For Everyone’,” Thomas Markusic, Firefly’s CEO, said in a news statement.
NASA also awarded a $6.95 million contract to Rocket Lab and $4.7 million to Virgin Galactic for CubSat launches.