April 18, 2021

Firefly has been selected by General Atomics to deploy a NASA Earth science device

Firefly Aerospace has been chosen by General Atomics to deploy a small Earth science spacecraft for NASA on the Alpha rocket in the year 2022. General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems stated on February 18 that it would deploy its Orbital Test Bed (OTB) 2 satellite from the Vandenberg Air Force Base situated in California on the Firefly Alpha rocket. The deal’s terms were not disclosed by the firms.

The Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA), a NASA device, will be onboard OTB-2 to examine particulate matter air pollution in the urban areas and help scientists understand its impact on human’s health. The spacecraft would fly at the height of 740 kilometers in the polar orbit. Scott Forney, who serves as the president of General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems, stated in an argument that the contract combined “Firefly’s innovative launch abilities with our novel concept to satellite design as well as production, but didn’t expand on why the company chose Alpha as its first launch vehicle, other than to say that it “meets both technical and performance standards.”

As a result of the existence of its deal with NASA agency, General Atomics was able to choose the launch vehicle for this flight rather than NASA. The Earth Venture Instrument system, which flies’ devices as housed payloads on a spaceship or the International Space Station, gave General Atomics the deal to fly the MAIA device. In August 2018, NASA awarded General Atomics a $38.5 million deal to fly the MAIA device, which included both the spacecraft as well as launch services.

OTB-2 is a bigger version of the firm’s OTB smallsat, which deployed in the year 2019 on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy as a portion of the Space Test Program 2 flight. The Deep Space Atomic Clock and a modular solar array developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory were among the payloads carried by that spacecraft. The MAIA deal is the newest in a string of accolades for Firefly as it prepares to deploy its Alpha rocket for the very first time. In December, the firm was awarded a $9.8 million NASA Venture Level Launch Services contract to deploy 2 pairs of cubesats into the polar orbits.

NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program awarded it a $93.3 million contract on February 4 for the deployment of the firm’s Blue Ghost lander delivering NASA payloads in the year 2023. Instead of being launched by Alpha, the lander will be propelled by another firm’s rocket. The first Alpha rocket is now being prepared for launch at the Vandenberg Air Force Base. Firefly’s CEO, Tom Markusic, stated on January 26 that the release would be in “several short weeks,” but the firm has yet to confirm a concrete launch date.