Ukrainian Maxim Polyakov and Firefly Aerospace have already passed halfway to the private space
The space industry has always been known for large scale programs, a slow pace of implementation, state regulation and direct dependence on the defense industry. However, the last decade has shown that the space industry can develop in another way. Companies such as Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and SpaceX have started a real revolution in this area and have sped up the the development of the privatization of space. Among these companies is Max’s Polyakov Firefly Aerospace, that is developing rather rapidly and has already organized a well-established process of designing its first rocket over the past few years. Currently, Firefly's flagship engine Lightning 1 is undergoing regular tests. Firefly Aerospace and Max Polyakov have scheduled the launch of its first rocket, Alpha, to be completed by the end of 2019. It is also interesting that without having a finished prototype, the company is already preparing its production facilities for the monthly production of 2 rockets by 2021.
Thanks to the investment of the managing partner of Noosphere Ventures and co-founder of Association Noosphere, Max Polyakov (Maxim Polyakov), in March 2017 the company was rescued from bankruptcy. After the assets of the company were acquired at auction, the company was transformed under the new name Firefly Aerospace, and the recruitment of key employees of the company was carried out. The main team, headed by CEO Thomas Markusic, has remained in the upgraded company. Today, in less than two years, the development of two important products has been completed: the Firefly Alpha base rocket and the Lightning engine.
Alpha is a two-stage rocket that uses Firefly's own kerosene engine. The carrier rocket can deliver 600kg to a 500-kilometer orbit (solar-synchronous) and up to 1000kg to low Earth orbit. "We believe that a rocket carrier that is capable of bringing one ton into orbit will be the most promising," said Firefly's executive director Thomas Markusic at the Satellite 2018 conference.
Firefly is confident that Alpha will compete seriously with the Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PLSV), which is a leader in delivering small satellites. Alpha and PLSV are comparable in cost, but the offer from Max Polyakov is more attractive in terms of efficiency.
Firefly Aerospace's headquarters and factory are located in Cedar Park, Texas. In addition, the company has a testing ground of 4000 square meters in Briggs, Texas. Firefly also has an R&D center in Dnipro, Ukraine, that in May this year was visited by the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, with Max Polyakov.
Firefly Aerospace's headquarters and factory are located in Cedar Park, Texas. In addition, the company has a testing ground measuring over 800 000 square meters in Briggs, Texas. He also has a R & D center in the Dnipro, Ukraine, which in May this year was visited by President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko together with Maxim Polyakov.
At the beginning of 1980, engineers tried to make satellites smaller and easier than the previous ones. At the same time, rocket carriers were getting bigger in order to deliver them to orbit. The tendency towards the creation of larger rockets is an attempt to reduce the cost of launches through the use of new technologies. For example, rocket carriers that land back after the launch allow the opportunity to be reused. Blue Origin and SpaceX companies are leading the market for such rockets. But, Max Polyakov (Maxym Polyakov) claims that this trend forces many organizations not to launch, since in fact this did not reduce the cost of delivering cargo to orbit, while the process itself is complicated.
Today, many engineers are projecting small satellites and nano satellites of the CubeSat standard. When using large-sized carrier rockets, such devices can only be sent to space as an additional payload. Therefore, companies often have to wait their turn for several years to launch their small satellites into orbit.
According to Max Polyakov (Maxim Polyakov), companies that provide services for the joint delivery of cargo to space on board one rocket (ride sharing launch services) usually offer only compromise delivery options. For example, they offer to deliver the cargo to another orbit, not the one a customer needs. These organizations may also offer discounts, given that the target cargo orbit will be changed. This allows companies to save on fuel and time to deliver the main cargo.
There is no denying that there are many options on the market for small rockets. Services for transportation of additional cargo up to 1000 kilograms are offered by China, Russia and India. But such services cost an average of 30-40 thousand dollars per kilogram. Max Polyakov plans to change the average prices of small orbital launches, providing individual launch services to any low Earth orbit for just 10 thousand dollars per kilogram of cargo.
For the last 10 years, the cost of designing and launching missiles has gone down by 5 to 10 percent. Firefly Aerospace plans to further lower the current average launch cost another 3-4 times, which will in turn facilitate the launch of more satellites into orbit.
For instance, Startups like Millennium Space Systems create affordable, high-performance CubeSats nanosatellites that fit the Firefly Alpha rocket. The low cost of production such satellites allows them to be used regularly in space missions. When CubeSats just appeared, they were badly suited as additional cargoes. Today, almost every commercial launch cannot go without CubeSat satellites.
Max Polyakov (Maxym Polyakov) argues that the launch of light-class carrier rockets is in high demand and is not fully satisfied by the current market. Adapting launch vehicles to this satellite class and meeting the demanded requirements will allow them to be used more effectively. Therefore, Firefly Aerospace and its launch vehicles have enormous potential in this niche.
As soon as the Alpha rocket is ready for launch, the company of Max Polyakov, Firefly Aerospace , plans to start mass production soon and create one carrier rocket every two weeks, with the possibility of further scaling.
The company has already signed contracts with the US government, as well as research and development agreements with the US Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA). Firefly Aerospace is also certified by the United States Air Force, although it is not a prerequisite for orbital launches.
However, Firefly Aerospace plans to not only perform government contracts. Max Polyakov confirmed that the company intends to sell its services mainly to private businesses. Answering the question of the extent to which additional US certification costs were justified, Max Polyakov said that the initial cost of a space flight is not the cost of launching itself. In most cases, the best value for a customer is not the minimum cost of launch, but the value of the service itself and the guarantee of the success of the mission. The US Air Force certification is an additional confirmation of the reliability of Firefly services.
The reliability and, as a consequence, reputation of the company, are the key criteria in the market where most players have been working for over half a century. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been giants of the space industry for decades, and the stereotype that startups can not enter this sphere and offer innovative solutions to the current state of things, have been debunked quite recently.
Earlier, the space industry was predominantly a government prerogative with an extremely inflexible policy for implementing modern, hightech solutions. However, a number of advanced technical areas such as 3D printing, computer simulation and micro satellites have brought about a turning point in the sphere when new companies were able to enter the market and began to compete with the big players. One of these companies is Firefly Aerospace Maxim Polyakov (Max Polyakov).
Despite the high cost of using modern technology, Max Polyakov (Maxim Polyakov) said that Firefly Aerospace requires just 4 launches per year to remain solvent. Given that the company already has dozens of launches pre-ordered, Firefly Aerospace is very likely to succeed.
As early as June 2018, FireFly Aerospace announced the signing of an Alpha launch service for Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). The contract between Max’s Polyakov Firefly and SSTL, includes six launches from 2020 to 2022. It is precisely the use of small-sized Alpha to easily place Surrey Satellite Technology Limited satellites in the orbit they need.
SSTL was the first official client of FireFly, which placed orders for full-scale launches. According to Sarah Parker, managing director of Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, the approach offered by Max Polyakov will provide customers with convenient, affordable, and reliable access to space. She also added that SSTL is not going to limit itself to this order and is confident that after the successful implementation of the CARBONITE-4 mission at the beginning of 2020, cooperation between FireFly and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited will continue.
In early May 2018, the US Air Force approved the transfer of the launch site Space Launch Complex 2 West (SLC-2W) of the California Air Base to the private company Firefly Aerospace.
The launch complex is currently being used by the United Launch Alliance Delta 2, the final launch of which is scheduled for September this year. It will launch a NASA space science satellite, which is used to collect data on changes in the glacial coverage of Earth.
Brad Obrocto, director of Launch Operations at Firefly, confirmed that the company will work closely with NASA and the US Air Force to complete the transfer without any problems. Brad Obrocto is confident that the company will retain most of the infrastructure of the complex and even improve it to grant 100% launch of the Alpha rocket.
The Firefly team and Max Polyakov expects to prepare the ground for launching the Alpha by the middle of 2019. It is expected that the company will carry out 2020 monthly launches of launch vehicles by the end of XNUMX.
Visit of the President of Ukraine to the Firefly Research Center
In 2018, Firefly Aerospace, founded by Max Polyakov (Maxym Polyakov), opened a research center in the city of Dnipro, Ukraine. This initiative attracted the attention of and received approval from the Ukrainian government. In May, 2018, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, visited the R&D Center.
Within the framework of the official visit to the Dnipropetrovsk region, Petro Poroshenko met with Max Polyakov. They discussed experimental production and the possibility of using space technology in the agrarian sector. In addition to the center's top management, the head of state also talked with ordinary engineers and developers. In total, FireFly Aerospace of Max Polyakov has about 300 people. More than half of them work in the Ukrainian research center.
The R&D center in Dnipro become the first scientific branch of an American Rocket company outside the United States. In addition, another extraordinary precedent has been set. For the first time, the US government has partnered with a private space company whose research and development center is located outside the United States.
The center will be engaged not only in scientific and theoretical development, but also will produce, test parts and ground launch complexes. To do this, the largest 3D printer in Ukraine is installed in the center. The device allows engineers to print large metal parts in a few hours.
Max’s Polyakov Firefly Aerospace constantly supports and introduces the concept of "new space". This concept is intended to make space accessible not only to giant companies, but also to smaller businesses thanks to cheaper and easier to produce rockets.
The R&D center has already managed to benefit Ukraine. The facility produced components for ArtOS, the fire control system for artillery units used by the Ukrainian Army. Firefly Aerospace is rapidly developing and adjusting production. The company plans to become a leader in the field of the delivery of small cargo to orbit Earth.
The aerospace industry has undergone many changes over the last decade. They include not only the development of new technologies and materials, but also a new approach to space exploration. The latter is more cost-effective and will be able to open the way for new players. Firefly Aerospace, a company founded by Max Polyakov, will definitely be one of them and will be part of the story of the New Space.