Firefly Aerospace has been chosen by the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to serve as a launch provider utilizing their Alpha rocket. The decision comes as part of the NRO’s Streamlined Launch Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity Contract (SLIC), marking a milestone for Firefly’s reputation in the aerospace industry.
Under the terms of the agreement, which boasts a 10-year ordering period and a value of $700 million, the company is now poised to play a vital role in supporting the NRO’s space initiatives.
Bill Weber, CEO of Firefly Aerospace, said in a statement that the company is ready to meet the NRO’s responsive space requirements, and highlighted their commitment to advancing rapid launch operations capabilities.
“In order to support the increased demand for Alpha launches, we’ve doubled the size of our facilities, implemented automated carbon composite technologies, and fine-tuned our operations to rapidly produce, test, and launch in response to our customers’ urgent mission needs.”—Bill Weber, CEO, Firefly Aerospace
The SLIC Program
The SLIC program, initiated by the NRO’s Office of Space Launch, is designed to incorporate commercial best practices for responsive space missions and foster competition among emerging launch providers. This opportunity is open to U.S. launch vehicles with a proven orbital record, enabling providers to bid for dedicated, rideshare, or multi-manifest launch services.
As a SLIC provider, Firefly is set to compete for NRO launches using its Alpha rocket, with its capability to lift over 1,000 kg to low Earth orbit from both Vandenberg Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Particularly, the company’s strategy revolves around minimizing launch costs and enhancing reliability and responsiveness through in-house manufacturing capabilities, component sharing, and the application of innovative technologies, such as carbon composite sandwich structures and patented tap-off cycle propulsion systems.
VICTUS NOX as a stepping stone
The launch which validated the company was the Victus Nox mission, a tremendous success for Firefly. The mission, triggered by a 24-hour call-up from the US Space Force (USSF), showcased Firefly’s prowess in rapid satellite deployment.
The Alpha rocket, lifting off from Vandenberg Space Force Base, encapsulated the payload and executed all launch preparation operations within an impressive 24-hour timeframe following the USSF notice.
Additionally, this was only the third launch for Alpha, and took place at the first available launch window. The deployment of the Victus Nox satellite to its designated Low Earth Orbit marked the pinnacle of the mission’s success. Notably, the company also accomplished a successful test of the Alpha’s stage two relight and targeted re-entry.
Looking ahead, Firefly is gearing up for its next Alpha launch for NASA scheduled for early 2024. Additionally, the company will support a responsive on-orbit mission for the NRO using Firefly’s Elytra vehicle in 2024.