Team watching Wednesday’s weather, which may interfere with planned mission from Space Launch Complex-2

by Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

December 18, 2023 | 9:35 pm

Just months after its third flight, Firefly Aerospace’s fourth Alpha rocket will aim to launch as soon as Wednesday from Vandenberg Space Force Base, but Mother Nature may act as the Grinch.

The Fly the Lightning mission’s launch stands ready to occur between 9:18 and 9:39 a.m. from Space Launch Complex-2, the former Delta II facility now home to the Firefly rocket program.

But a series of storms bringing rainy and windy conditions this week may interfere with Firefly’s plans.

The launch will aim for Wednesday, but the team has backup dates through Friday, Firefly representatives said.

“At Vandenberg Space Force Base, our Space Launch Delta 30 Guardians and Airmen play a vital role in delivering robust spaceport capabilities that directly provide the ‘to’ part of U.S. Space Force’s mission to secure our nation’s interests in, from, and to space,” said U.S. Space Force Col. Bryan Titus, Space Launch Delta 30 vice commander and the launch decision authority for the mission or the person who gives the final green light to proceed with liftoff.

“Our commercial launch partners serve as our invaluable industrial base, enabling us to achieve robust national security objectives in support of the entire joint force,” Titus said. 

Firefly officials announced Dec. 12 that the team had successfully completed a static fire test. 

“As part of our ‘test what you fly’ approach, these full-duration hot fires verify all systems are go,” Firefly said in a written statement.

The Fly the Lightning mission will deploy an Electronically Steered Antenna (ESA) payload developed by Lockheed Martin to demonstrate rapid delivery of on-orbit capabilities for U.S. warfighters. 

But a secondary objective will focus on the responsive space capabilities by tracking and trimming the total working hours required from receiving the payload to launch readiness. The team will attempt to reduce time taken for the record-breaking Victus Nox mission in mid-September with the third Alpha launch.

“On the heels of our successful Alpha launch for the U.S Space Force, the Firefly team will continue to push the limits and set new standards in the industry, operating at a rapid pace for Alpha FLTA004 and future missions in response to the needs of our customers,” said Bill Weber, CEO of Texas-based Firefly Aerospace

“This team is utilizing lessons from our Victus Nox mission to fundamentally change how quickly both government and commercial customers can process their payloads and launch assets to space,” Weber said.

During the final launch operations, the team will transport the payload faring to the launch pad and mate it to Firefly’s Alpha rocket under the watchful eye of Space Force members.

“Through the Victus Nox demonstration, the Space Force proved the United States can rapidly respond to national security threats in space on an unprecedented timeline,” said Lt. Col. Justin Beltz, materiel leader and chief of the Space Force’s Small Launch and Targets Division. 

Alpha is designed to carry smaller satellites weighing 2,200 pounds into orbit. 

“What we’re most excited about is that this mission features several firsts – a new payload, built rapidly in a new way, with Firefly as a new launch partner,” said Bob Behnken, director of Technology Acceleration for Lockheed Martin’s Ignite organization.

“This also marks the first of our self-funded technology demonstrations through Lockheed Martin’s Ignite organization, created to accelerate development projects like this, push limits and expand capabilities for customers.”

A livestream of the countdown will begin an hour before liftoff and can be found on the YouTube channels for Firefly, available here, and NASASpaceflight, available here. (NASA Spaceflight is not affiliated with NASA.)

[18 Dec 2023] Firefly Aerospace’s Fourth Launch of Alpha Rocket Set at Vandenberg SFB
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