Firefly Aerospace to build, launch rockets on Space Coast

Gov. DeSantis announced new partnership Friday at Cape Canaveral

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Like lightning bugs on a summer night, a new rocket’s engines could sparkle in the skies over Cape Canaveral as soon as next year.

News 6 partner Florida Today reported Firefly Aerospace on Friday confirmed plans to launch Alpha and Beta rockets from Launch Complex 20 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Deepening its ties to the Space Coast, Firefly will manufacture the rockets designed to lift small satellites in a 150,000-square-foot facility to be built at Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Park.

That will bring more than 200 jobs to a neighborhood including OneWeb Satellites’ production facility next door, and Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket factory across the street.

“Firefly Aerospace is proud to be the newest member of the Florida Space Coast family,” Firefly CEO Tom Markusic said in a ceremony at Complex 20, attended by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Our mass production manufacturing facility in Exploration Park will enable Firefly to produce 24 Alpha vehicles a year, enabling a launch cadence that will support a rapidly expanding global small satellite revolution and the commercialization of cislunar space.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis made the "major announcement" Friday in Cape Canaveral, touting the new jobs and economic opportunities the $52 million project will bring to Central Florida.

“People can come to Florida," DeSantis said. "We welcome you. We want to have a lot of new jobs in the technology space.”

WATCH LIVE: Gov. DeSantis makes major space announcement in Cape Canaveral

WATCH LIVE: Gov. DeSantis makes major space announcement in Cape Canaveral.

Posted by News 6 WKMG / ClickOrlando on Friday, February 22, 2019

Headquartered near Austin, Texas, Firefly hopes to launch its first Alpha rocket this year from California, and eventually launch twice a month. 

The 95-foot rocket powered by Firefly's own Reaver main engines and Lightning upper-stage engine, seeks to capitalize on an emerging market for smaller satellites, more than 300 of which were launched last year.

Companies are developing the satellites for applications including imaging Earth, and several planned mega-constellations would provide global Internet access.

Firefly's potential launch this year and expansion to Florida continue a surprising comeback from the brink of death. Founded in 2013 as Firefly Space Systems, the company went bankrupt two years ago when an investor pulled out, but was rescued and reconstituted by Noosphere Ventures, a Silicon Valley fund.

Powered by Firefly's own Reaver and Lightning engines, the Alpha is designed to lift about 2,000 pounds to low Earth orbit. The Beta is a beefed-up version of the rocket featuring a first stage of three Alpha boosters strapped together, similar to SpaceX's Falcon Heavy or United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy. 

Firefly's smaller launcher will come with a lower price: $15 million per launch. 

The company's tag line is "Making space for everyone."

Another competitor, Rocket Lab, which launches Electron rockets from New Zealand, last year chose Virginia over Florida for its U.S. launch site.

But Firefly, which has said it was also considering options in Virginia and Georgia, is potentially a bigger win for Space Florida because of the additional manufacturing work.