Firefly will be able to launch a rocket with as little as 24 hours' notice at Wallops Island, seen here in a Firefly rendering.

New Space Company to Launch Rockets from Wallops Island

Governor Glenn Youngkin and Firefly Aerospace announced last week that the commercial space company will start launching its Alpha Rocket in Wallops Island, Virginia as early as 2025. That’s right, we’ll be able to see even more rockets blast off from Virginia’s Eastern Shore in the near future.  

Firefly Aerospace is based just north of Austin, Texas. They have a nearby testing facility they affectionately call the Rocket Ranch. The close proximity of these facilities allows Firefly to design and test hardware and software at a quick pace. They have secured launch facilities at Lompoc, California, Cape Canaveral, Florida, and now the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island.

The rocket they’ll be launching over the Chesapeake is the Alpha, a two-stage rocket just shy of 100 feet tall. The first stage has four engines, the second stage has one. The rocket can carry a payload of just over 1000 kilograms into low earth orbit. One of the rocket’s unique features is that it can be deployed at short notice, as little as one day.

According to Firefly spokesperson Risa Schnautz, “It depends on the requirements of each customer’s mission requirements, but Firefly has proven to be capable of completing final payload and launch operations with just 24 hours’ notice.” Firefly has the ability to keep a rocket in a stage of readiness, then make final preparations in a day. “These final preparations included payload encapsulation, payload transport to the launch pad, mating to Alpha, and fueling.”

Firefly has already tested this successfully on the VICT NOX mission for the U.S. Space Force.

Firefly is working on additional vehicles as well. Their Medium Launch Vehicle (MLV) will be able to carry larger payloads with its seven-engine first stage. They have designed an unmanned lunar lander that will be able to send supplies to the moon.  They have designed a series of orbiters that can carry out such missions as on-orbit transfers, hosting, delivery, and servicing of other spacecraft. 

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport is located on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. The Virginia Spaceport Authority leases land from NASA. RocketLab USA has a growing presence at Wallops, so the site already had the infrastructure Firefly needed in place. There are three launch pads, with a fourth under construction, and a state-of-the art payload processing facility.

The Eastern Shore location provides excellent rocket launch viewing opportunities for people throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. Stay up to date on upcoming launches and guidance on how to watch here. Firefly hasn’t scheduled its first launch yet.

 “Firefly is proud to launch our Alpha rocket from Wallops Island to conduct our responsive space operations on the East and West Coast,” said Bill Weber, CEO of Firefly Aerospace. “Governor Youngkin and his teams at Virginia Spaceport Authority and the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation are great partners as we expand Firefly’s launch services for both Alpha and MLV. Their support is enabling greater launch schedule flexibility while simultaneously creating new, high-tech jobs in Virginia.” 

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