Eric Ralph · June 18, 2019
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Although the company quietly annoyed the concept for the first time a few months ago, Firefly released a detailed update its orbital vehicle (OTV), an ambitious spacecraft designed to complement its Alpha and Beta launchers. If Firefly can achieve the technical promise of an independent spacecraft, the combination of Alpha (~ $ 1
5M) and OTV can help introduce a new era of small, high-performance satellites to small, high-performance missiles. , Rocket Lab – currently the world's only real trading retail supplier – has already demonstrated the strength of this new paradigm, albeit on a smaller scale. After only one unsuccessful attempt, Electron's first orbital launch launched a surprising third-stage debut used to circle the payload orbit. After five successful uses in orbit, the Rocket Laboratory took a third step further by adding unnecessary avionics, solar arrays, and more to create an effectively independent spacecraft / satellite bus named Photon. Firefox's OTV is much larger than Photon, but it is functionally quite similar. Taking advantage of the significant advantages of Alpha compared to Electron, Firefly has designed a third stage / spacecraft capable of delivering hundreds of pounds of geostationary orbit, Moon and (perhaps) beyond.
Changing the Delta V Game
- In general, OTV is pretty small. According to the Firefly's Payload, the spacecraft will weigh only 130kg (285 pounds) dry and will probably carry 30-70kg of xenon fuel to its electric ion engines. This is a critical differentiator for Rocket Lab's photonic and impact phases, which rely on Curie's ineffective (but simple and reliable) chemical missile engine.
- According to Firefly, Alpha is designed to release a maximum of 1000kg (2200lb) to 200km (125 miles) of low Earth Orbit (LEO). Given the 200 kg OTV wet mass, the Alpha + OTV offers some amazing features compared to the size and design of the rocket.
- Powerful electric pushers undoubtedly add a lot of complexity to any spacecraft that chooses to use them, but this pain is often considered valuable. for the benefits they can offer. Most notably, ion drive is extremely efficient.
| This graph shows the potential benefits of Alpha + OTV's work on Alpha itself. (Firefly)
- Thanks to the efficient OTV electric motors and the light carbon composite structure, the potential benefits of Alpha + OTV can hardly be believed to be a rocket like (comparatively) as small as Alpha.
- Alpha can only deliver a meaningful payload (~ 100 kg) to perhaps 4000 km (2500 miles). With OTV, Alpha can suddenly deliver ~ 600kg of circular geostationary orbit (~ 36,000km, 22,300 miles) and upwards of 400-500kg in orbit around the moon.
For reference, although weighing about 10% of Falcon 9, Alpha and OTV could offer 10-15% of Falcon 9 for transfusion injection (TLI). This completely contradicts the general rule of thumb that, as the rocket becomes considerably smaller, its characteristics (especially for higher energy orbits) deteriorate disproportionately.
With the OTV, the Alfa – a $ 15 million nominal launch vehicle, which has been leased to a LEO payload – becomes an incredibly intriguing option for small geostationary communications satellites and small-scale public and private studies on the moon, near Asteroids on Earth Maybe even Mars / Venus.
- According to a senior investor and Firefly board member, Firefly hopes OTV will be ready for its orbital debut at Alpha's third start, scheduled for the mid-2020.
- Of course, OTV is a bird without wing without the rocket carrier of Firefly's Alpha. Weighing 54,000 kg (120,000 lb) of full fuel, the Alfa is a two-stage rocket that will stand 1.8 meters (6 feet) wide and 29 meters (95 feet) high. Powered by four Reaver engines, the first stage will produce ~ 740 kN (166,000 lbf), approximately 85% of one of the nine engines of the Falcon 9 Merlin 1D.
- Firefly has been working tirelessly on the ambitious debut of alpha release since December 2019, which is likely to end in early 2020 due to the inherent complexity of the task. Critically, however, Firefly has made tremendous progress towards this goal.
- In particular, Firefly's second phase – driven by a Lightning-optimized engine – is now qualified to run with constant static fire at the company's facilities in Texas. Firefly is in the middle of preparing for the same series of qualifying tests for its more powerful first stage, shown above, in the form of a Reaver engine attached to the Alpha S1 thrust structure.
- Already in July, a full set of four Reaver engines will be installed on the same thrust structure to perform static fire testing, similar to SpaceX gradually adding Merlin 1D engines during Falcon 9 development testing.
- If all goes according to plan, Firefly will complete its first alpha rocket – the first stage, the second stage and the cargo rake – in October or November 2019. Expect many new photos and updates while Alfa is approaching the first your start
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