Firefly Aerospace will take another crack at reaching orbit on Sunday (Sept. 11), and you can watch it live.
The Texas-based company plans to launch its Alpha rocket on a test mission from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base on Sunday (Sept. 11) at 6 p.m. EDT (3 p.m. local California time; 2200 GMT). You can watch the liftoff via Firefly (opens in new tab) and its livestream partner, EverydayAstronaut.com (opens in new tab); Space.com will carry that webcast as well, if possible.
This will be Alpha’s second attempt to make it to orbit. The first try, which launched from Vandenberg on Sept. 2, 2021, ended in a dramatic fireball after the 95-foot-tall (29 meters) rocket suffered a major anomaly.
Video: Watch Firefly Aerospace use a rocket engine to light birthday candles
A Firefly investigation determined that one of Alpha’s four first-stage Reaver engines shut down just 15 seconds into that flight. The company traced the problem to the premature closure of the engine’s main propellant valves. Firefly addressed the issue and now has Alpha back on the pad.
The rocket will be carrying satellites on Sunday’s mission, as it did during last year’s launch. Flying aboard Alpha this time around are two tiny cubesats — Serenity, provided by the nonprofit Teachers in Space, which will gather flight data for educational purposes; and TES-15, a collaboration between NASA and San Jose State University that will test a de-orbiting “exo-brake.”
Alpha is also carrying a deployer called PicoBus that will eject a handful of even smaller “picosats” into orbit, Firefly wrote in a mission description (opens in new tab).
Alpha is an expendable rocket designed to give small satellites dedicated rides to orbit, much as Rocket Lab’s 59-foot-tall (18 m) Electron currently does. Alpha can loft 2,580 pounds (1,170 kilograms) to low Earth orbit at a price of $15 million per launch, according to Firefly’s Alpha user’s guide (opens in new tab).
The Alpha launch is just part of the spaceflight action this weekend: SpaceX lofted another big batch of its Starlink broadband satellites on Saturday night (Sept. 10) along with the huge BlueWalker 3 test satellite, a pathfinder for AST SpaceMobile’s planned direct-to-cellphone connectivity constellation.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).