When it comes to commercial spaceflight, no one beats SpaceX. The company has established itself as a leader in the field, thanks in part to the innovation behind its workers and the will of men like Elon Musk who back it.
Over the past few months, much has been done to progress SpaceX. The company has especially been active with government contracts, winning a lunar lander system contract with NASA a little over a month ago. However, its endeavors in the private spaceflight space continue to impress as well.
Say Hello to Firefly
The latest milestone for SpaceX is a deal with Texas-based aerospace company Firefly Aerospace. Last month, Firefly announced that it had struck a deal with SpaceX to carry its Blue Ghost lunar lander to the moon in 2023. In a statement, Shea Ferring, Firefly's senior vice president of spacecraft, said:
“Firefly is excited to fly our Blue Ghost spacecraft on the highly reliable Falcon 9, which will deliver NASA instruments and technology demonstration payloads that support NASA science goals and NASA's Artemis program."
Fanning added that the deal would ensure that Falcon 9 gets the Blue Ghost lander to the moon, ensuring that the lander doesn’t spend so much fuel to complete the lunar touchdown process. It will specifically deploy the lander on a trajectory to the moon, reducing the Blue Ghost’s onboard propulsion system requirements. According to Firefly, Blue Ghost will deliver over 330 pounds of payload to the moon’s surface.
Firefly is set to build the Blue Ghost lander at its manufacturing plant in Texas. The lander itself will aim to land at the Mare Crisium region on the near side of the moon when it launches - a date tentatively set for 2023. Blue Ghost is part of a NASA contract that Firefly won in February. The $93.3 million contract makes Blue Ghost just the sixth lunar lander project under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
NASA’s CLPS landers will be robotic precursors that will assist human explorers in getting to the moon in the future. The agency’s contract with Firefly will allow it to fly up to ten research payloads to the moon.
Of course, SpaceX is no stranger to the CLPS program. The company even launched a moon mission - the Beresheet, an Israeli private moon lander - to the moon aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. While the Beresheet lander didn’t land successfully, SpaceX is waxing strong on its own. The company is already set to launch several CLPS landers as early as 2022, and it remains one of NASA’s most important contractors.
Firefly Solidifying Its Place
While it is unclear how Firefly plans to move forward or contribute to space exploration, the company seems to be doing fairly well for itself.
Firefly expanded its presence in Cedar Park, Texas last month after the city council signed off on its expansion agreement. With the city council’s approval, Firefly will now purchase 40,000 square feet of real estate in the Scottsdale Crossing Technology Center. The expansion is set to create about 682 new jobs, all with an average annual salary of $90,000.
A press release from the City of Cedar Park explained that Firefly’s launch vehicles use common technologies, manufacturing tools, and launch capabilities to provide launch solutions for payloads. The city council believes that a company of its size expanding in Cedar Park will be a major boost for them.
More Moves for SpaceX
As for SpaceX, the Firefly contract is just another sign of progress for the company. SpaceX continues to have its hand in different areas, including its Starlink system that looks to provide affordable and fast internet access to communities.
Last week, reports confirmed that SpaceX is talking with several airlines to install internet connectivity on their planes. This is why the company works towards the launch of commercial broadband networks this year.
SpaceX already launched almost 1,800 Starlink satellites out of the almost 4,400 needed to ensure global broadband coverage. The company is also working on a Starlink beta that provides up to 100Mbps downloads and 20Mbps uploads. Thousands of users have signed up, showing significant demand for Starlink worldwide.
The airplane foray won’t be a first. SpaceX filed plans to test Starlink on five Gulfstream jets last year. In March, the company also requested approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use Starlink on Earth Stations in Motion - basically, vehicles that can receive signals. These include trucks, cars, and planes.