Firefly Space Systems, the US-based start-up in small launch vehicles, has laid off all its staff after a funding crisis. Rumours of the firm’s problems had been circulating at the International Astronautical Congress 2016 (IAC 2016) in Guadalajara, Mexico, after its staff failed to turn up to present technical papers at the event.
These rumours have now been confirmed in a report by Jeff Foust in Space News.
According to the report, one of Firefly’s European investors suddenly pulled out of the venture, with the British “Brexit” decision to leave the European Union cited as a partial cause. The firm is also embroiled in a legal battle over intellectual property rights with the air-launched rocket firm, Virgin Galactic. One of Firefly’s founders and lead designers, Thomas Markusic, previously worked at that firm.
Firefly was designing a two-stage liquid-fuel launch vehicle, Alpha, using a new quasi-rocket engine, which partially employed an aerospike configuration with a plug cluster of multiple smaller conventional nozzles feeding the system. An aerospike offers increased efficiency in compensating for altitude. Originally the vehicle was to have been ground launched, but a design change resulted in an air-launch concept. The rocket was designed to carry 200 kg payloads to a sun-synchronous near polar low Earth orbit.
The firm had already received a single Venture-class launch demonstration contract from NASA, to be flown in 2018. It is also in receipt of technology development contracts from DARPA and other US Defence organisations.