As we do from time to time.
Firefly is preparing for the second launch of its Alpha rocket from Vandenberg SFS, California, in late August to early September. Peter Schumacher, interim chief executive of Firefly, said recently that the rocket is ready, and “it’s really pending, at this point, range availability.”
Firefly's last attempt was almost a year ago in September of '21, but failed to reach orbit when one of its first first-stage engines shut down shortly after liftoff. The company is waiting on a launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration, which in turn depends on approval of a new debris model for the rocket. The revised debris model came after the first Alpha rocket exploded in flight when the range activated its flight termination system. Debris from the rocket, made primarily of carbon composite materials, fell outside of the range, including in nearby communities, although no damage was reported.
It's not surprising; the debris models available were based on all-metal rockets and, as they put it, “We have the unfortunate precedent of being the first large composite rocket ever to be terminated,” he said. “So when we did terminate, some of the pieces fell outside where this model predicted.” Oops.
Speaking of oopsies... SpaceX and NASA released that Crew-5, the next crew rotation flight to the Space Station is scheduled for No Earlier Than September 29. But that's not the oopsie.
This mission will fly on a new Falcon 9 first stage. Intriguingly, as part of its explanation for the date, NASA said, "SpaceX is removing and replacing the rocket’s interstage and some onboard instrumentation after the hardware was damaged during transport from SpaceX’s production factory in Hawthorne, California, to the company’s McGregor test facility in Texas for stage testing."
According to one Twitter post, the "damage during transport" occurred when the rocket struck a bridge near Van Horn, Texas.
Tapping or otherwise touching a multi-million dollar rocket into a bridge while strapped on a truck? Oops. At least NASA and SpaceX seem to agree that replacing the interstage will fix it, so it sounds like minor damage.
Remember reading here about the Roman Space Telescope? Named for Nancy Grace Roman as a tribute to the late NASA executive and first Chief Astronomer who was
one of the drivers behind the Hubble Space Telescope program. Although the actual launch is still far out (apparently NET 2026), NASA announced they've chosen the Falcon Heavy to carry the telescope to its orbit. Eric Ralph at Teslarati points out an interesting side note.
Fittingly, the Roman Space Telescope’s basic design is reminiscent of Hubble in many ways, owing to the fact that the mission exists solely because the US National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) chose to donate an unused multi-billion-dollar spy satellite – a satellite that was effectively a secret Earth-facing version of Hubble.
Falcon Heavy is in a unique place in the American space fleet. It's the heaviest lift vehicle in the fleet at the moment and so it has attracted some big missions, like the Europa Clipper. Unfortunately, that comes at a price. As Ralph points out:
SpaceX photo, from their announcement of the contract, not dated or linked to a mission.
... the major missions that are increasingly being entrusted to Falcon Heavy are far more likely to run into significant spacecraft-side delays. At one point in late 2021, for example, SpaceX had five Falcon Heavy launches tentatively planned in 2022 – all but one of which had already been delayed several months to a year or more. Seven months into 2022, not one of those missions has launched and it’s looking increasingly likely that Falcon Heavy will be lucky to fly at all this year.