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Firefly Aerospace Makes A Comeback With Lightning 1 Engine Demo In Texas

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After declaring bankruptcy two years ago, Firefly Space Systems makes a comeback to the small rocket industry with a new name. 

Upon its return, the start-up, now rebranded as Firefly Aerospace held a live demonstration of its rocket's upper stage engine known as the Lightning 1. It conducted a long duration test fire lasting for 296 seconds on March 15.

Although the company maintains its headquarters at Cedar Park, the event was held at a rural site in Briggs, Texas and was witnessed by an audience of around 300 people.

The invitations sent to the attendees highlighted that there's no guarantee of successful results, yet the engine performed according to expectations. It's now ready to take Firefly Alpha into the Low Earth orbit.

"Analysis of data and post-test inspection of hardware revealed no anomalies," says the Cedar-based start-up in an official statement.

Lightning 1 is propelled by the company's LOX/RP-1 system and is capable of producing 15,759 pounds of thrust. It also includes a turbine-exhaust nozzle extension made of metal.

What Is Firefly Aerospace?

Firefly Aerospace is a private company that intends to provide affordable and high-performance payload delivery services to the small satellite market.

It was founded in 2014 by Thomas Markusic, former vice president of Propulsion at Virgin Galactic, senior systems engineer at Blue Origin, and principal propulsion engineer at SpaceX.

Prior working for these new space firms, Markusic served as a research scientist and propulsion engineer for both NASA and the U.S. Airforce.

When he launched Firefly Space Systems, it immediately grabbed the attention of many with the innovative design of its Firefly Alpha.

Unlike traditional rockets, it is made of carbon fiber and is propelled by a non-helium aerospike engine that only runs on methane.

Older spacecraft are normally made of heavier materials such as aluminum and titanium. By using carbon fiber, the rocket becomes significantly lighter, making it more fuel efficient.

Meanwhile, Firefly Alpha's helium-free and self-pressurizing engines strongly reflect Markusic's background in SpaceX.

Older engines rely on mechanical pumps for pressure. As these pumps pull fuel in, it pumps helium out into the empty parts of the fuel tank. The more fuel is used, the more gas is pumped out to maintain the necessary amount of pressure.

When all the fuel used up, the tank ends up filled with pressurized helium and is, therefore, non-reusable.

Firefly Alpha's engines work differently by converting some of the methane fuel into gas. A report states that by the end of every burn, the tank is filled with pressurized methane, which can be used to produce more thrust.

Big Leaps With A Small Rocket

Unfortunately, Firefly Space Systems had to declare bankruptcy in 2016. Apparently, developing a rocket with such an ambitious design takes not only plenty of time but also money.

A year after Max Polyakov, founder of Earth Observation System, bought the assets, patents, and intellectual property of the start-up and renamed it as Firefly Aerospace.

Now, for the first time in more than three years, the company has opened its new facility to the public. It's not much but according to Markusic, they're investing more of their funds into developing a cost-efficient rocket instead of unnecessary infrastructures.

In a separate report, he shares the projected price for each kilogram of payload. Other companies are offering $40,000 to $50,000 per kilogram. Firefly Aerospace, on the other hand, plans to charge $10,000 per kilogram and hopes to lower the amount even further.

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