Firefly Alpha Rocket Set to Launch Eight CubeSats for NASA Today

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on July 2, 2024 08:00
Firefly Alpha Rocket Set To Launch Eight Cubesats For Nasa Today

Firefly Aerospace's Alpha rocket is set to launch eight CubeSats as part of NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) 43 mission.

Originally scheduled for Monday night, the launch faced a delay due to a ground equipment issue and is now rescheduled for no earlier than Tuesday, July 2, at 9:03 p.m. PDT from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Mission Details and Objectives

The mission, named Noise of Summer, marks Firefly's fifth launch attempt with its Alpha rocket. The primary objective of this mission is to deploy eight CubeSats into a sun-synchronous Earth orbit. These CubeSats are part of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI), a program designed to provide educational institutions and nonprofits a pathway to space. Firefly Aerospace is one of three companies selected to fly small satellites under NASA’s Launch Services Program Venture-Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contract, which was awarded in December 2020.

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When it launches, the two-stage, 29.48 meter (96.7-foot) tall Alpha rocket will send eight CubeSats from multiple universities and NASA centers to a sun-synchronous Earth orbit. The mission countdown reached T-8 seconds when the first abort call came through, described as a “ground support issue.” Launch teams recycled to T-19 minutes but eventually scrubbed the attempt due to a second abort call at T-10 minutes and 12 seconds. Firefly stated on social media, "The team has identified the solution and is working quickly to meet our next launch window on July 2nd."

Payloads on Board

The eight CubeSats onboard are part of NASA's CubeSat Launch Initiative and include a variety of educational and technological experiments. The payloads include:

  • CatSat (University of Arizona) will demonstrate a deployable antenna for high-speed communications. This technology could significantly improve the capability of small satellites to communicate with ground stations.
  • KUbeSat-1 (University of Kansas) will study cosmic rays, aiming to understand the energy and species of primary cosmic rays striking Earth.
  • MESAT-1 (University of Maine) will analyze temperatures to predict algal blooms, using multispectral cameras to determine phytoplankton concentrations in bodies of water.
  • R5-S4 and R5-S2-2.0 (NASA Johnson Space Center) aim to improve CubeSat design and performance. These satellites will test new processes for faster and cheaper development of high-performance CubeSats. Sam Pedrotty, R5 project manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, explained, "In the near term, R5 hopes to demonstrate new processes that allow for faster and cheaper development of high-performance CubeSats. The cost and schedule improvements will allow R5 to provide higher-risk ride options to low-Technology Readiness Levels payloads so more can be demonstrated on-orbit."
  • Serenity (Teachers in Space) includes educational experiments accessible via ham radio, allowing anyone to collect data or pictures from the satellite.
  • SOC-i (University of Washington) will test attitude control technology, using a guidance and control system called SOAR to avoid pointing instruments directly at the Sun while maintaining power to solar panels.
  • TechEdSat-11 (NASA Ames Research Center) features several technological demonstrations, including an exo-brake for deorbiting, advanced communications, and radiation sensors.
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Firefly's Future Plans

Firefly Aerospace is expanding its launch capabilities with new sites in Virginia and Sweden, aiming to increase its launch cadence and provide greater access to specific orbits desired by contractors. The company plans to launch the Alpha rocket four times this year, with real contracts and customers, both commercial and government.

Firefly's expansion includes a new launch site at Wallops Island in Virginia, expected to be operational by early 2025, and a partnership with the Swedish Space Corporation for launches from the Esrange Space Center in Sweden starting in 2026.

This strategic expansion is designed to reduce congestion and increase launch frequency. Charlotta Sund, CEO at SSC, remarked, "We’re pleased to announce this historic collaboration that will have a huge impact on the global launch market, not least in Europe and the U.S. Reducing the current gap of orbital launch sites in Europe, this collaboration strengthens the transatlantic link between Sweden and the U.S. whilst offering unique space capabilities for the Swedish NATO membership."

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