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Firefly Aerospace targets Sept. 11 for second Alpha rocket launch

two rocket engines firing during static fire exercise
Firefly's Alpha rocket undergoes a static fire test on Aug. 17, 2022. (Image credit: Firefly Aerospace)

Firefly's Alpha rocket is ready to launch again after a major anomaly during its debut flight in 2021.

Firefly Aerospace finished a static fire test of its small satellite launcher Wednesday (Aug. 17) and set a launch date for the Alpha rocket's second attempt to reach orbit for Sept. 11.

"Alpha Flight 2 is ready and headed #ToTheBlack. Stay tuned for more updates," the company wrote in a tweet (opens in new tab), along with footage of the rocket's engines successfully firing.

Firefly's Alpha rocket first launched nearly a year ago, on Sept. 2, 2021, blasting off from Vandenberg Space Force Base. Following a premature engine shutdown, the rocket exploded in a fireball 2.5 minutes after launch. 

The company later said later said the shutdown of one of the rocket's four main engines was caused by an electrical issue during the launch. Range controllers then detonated the rocket for safety reasons, as the booster was moving out of control.

Related: Firefly rocket engine looks luminous during test (Photo)

Alpha is an expendable rocket designed to send 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg) of payload into low Earth orbit, according to Firefly's specifications page (opens in new tab). It is aiming squarely at the small satellite launch market against several competitors.

Also working in this arena are Rocket Lab, which has been sending small payloads to space with its Electron booster since 2018; Virgin Orbit, which now has four missions completed successfully; and Astra, which recently shut down production of its Rocket 3.0 rocket line following several failures and plans to focus on the development of a bigger booster.

Alternatively, small satellites can hitchhike on larger rockets like SpaceX's Falcon 9, but small companies like Firefly say that a rocket dedicated to launching small satellites provides better launch timing and orbital insertion flexibility.

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While working on Alpha development, Firefly has been busy with other projects. 

Earlier in August, Firefly and Northrop Grumman announced they will create a new first stage for Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket and co-develop a new medium-lift booster for the future. (The move is to eliminate Northrop Grumman's dependency on Russian engines for Antares, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.)

Firefly is also developing a medium-lift rocket named Beta, a Space Utility Vehicle for use in orbit, and a moon lander called the Blue Ghost.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.