Firefly Alpha launch gets to orbit but doesn’t hit the mark

by | Dec 23, 2023 | Launches, Reliability Info, Satellites, Seradata News

A launch of the Firefly Alpha rocket took place from the Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, USA, at 1732 GMT on 22 December 2023.  The payload carried was the Lockheed Martin Electronically Steerable Antenna Technology Demonstrator satellite called Tantrum. After what seemed to be a successful launch – dubbed Fly-the-lightning –  with what appeared to be a successful first and second stage burn, all was not well. While the details of the target orbit were not released, the strange low perigee nature of the orbit achieved 523 x 215 km at an inclination of 140 degrees – appeared to indicate a significant undershoot by the upper stage.

Update on 23 December 2023: Firefly Aerospace, which built and operates the rocket, later confirmed in a statement  that the second stage malfunctioned on its planned second stage circularisation burn. “Alpha’s scheduled stage 2 engine relight did not deliver the payload to its precise target orbit.”

Update on 5 February 2024: Lockheed Martin has revealed that Tantrum has a achieved a much larger part of its mission than was expected following the partial launch failure.  Thus on the Seradata launch and spacecraft database we have moved the “capacity lost” to only 20 percent rather than the original 100 percent, noting that most of the tests/objectives were achieved in the short space of time Tantrum remains in orbit (its re-entry is imminent). We have left a significant life loss on the database however.

Firefly Alpha launches on 22 December 2023 but all was not well. Courtesy: Firefly/Trevor Mahlmann

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