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Satnews Daily
October 4th, 2016

Firefly's Flame Is Diminished... For Now...

Firefly Space Systems, based in Cedar Park, Texas, was developing dedicated launch vehicles for the smallsat market and, on September 28th, the firm reported the successful completion of more than 50 hot fire tests of their combustor, including multiple, full mission duty cycle (“MDC”) tests.

Firefly combustor test on Test Stand 1.
Photo is courtesy of Edwards Media.

Firefly was developing one combustor design that was planned for use as the power for both stages of their smallsat launcher—“Firefly Alpha.” The Alpha upper stage was to use an engine (FRE-1) with a single combustor, whereas the first stage engine (FRE-2) was to use an array of 12 of the same combustors arranged in an annular aerospike configuration. These rocket engines operated using LOx/RP-1 propellants and the basic combustor design could use either methane or RP-1 fuels. The company stated that their upper stage variant of the engine (FRE-1) would produce 7,000 lbf thrust and the first stage cluster used in FRE-2 would produce 125,000 lbf thrust.

However, these success are now expected to be placed on hold, as the firm's major European investor decided to remove their financing support from Firefly's efforts in late September, which then resulted in a major US financier to also depart the company's efforts. Due to these cash flow reductions and the firm's high burn rate of capital, the company then placed all of their employees on furlough.

The CEO of the company, Thomas Markusic, is now involved in raising capital with which some of the employees could be brought back to work, especially as Firefly was just awarded a technology contract from a DoD organization for use of their technology for an unrelated platform. No other specifics have been learned as of this writing, as this contract remains under review and the principals are engaged in additional negotiations.

According to Markusic, other avenues that could be pursued include the sale of the company and other technology development contracts.