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Although the company quietly released the concept for the first time several months ago, Firefly has released a detailed update on its Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV), an ambitious spacecraft meant to complement its Alpha and Beta launch vehicles. If Firefly can deliver on the independent spacecraft's technical promises, the combination of Alpha (~ $ 1
In fact , Rocket Lab – currently the world's only commercial small launch launch provider – has already demonstrated the power of this new paradigm, both on a smaller scale. After just one failed attempt, the first successful orbital launch of the company's electron rocket also marked the surprise debut of a tiny third stage used to circularize the payload's orbit. After five successful uses in orbit, Rocket Lab has taken its third stage and step further, adding redundant avionics, solar arrays, and more to effectively create an independent spacecraft / satellite bus called Photon. By all appearances, Firefly's OTV is much larger than Photon but is functionally quite similar. The advantage of Alpha's significant performance benefits compared to Electron, Firefly has developed a third stage / spacecraft capable of delivering hundreds of kilograms to geostationary orbit, the moon and perhaps beyond.
Changing the delta V game
- Generally speaking, OTV is quite small. According to Firefly's Payload User's Guide, the spacecraft will weigh just 130 kg (285 lb) and will carry 30-70 kg of xenon fuel for its electric ion thrusters. This is a critical differentiator relative to Rocket Labs Photon and kick stage, which rely on the inefficient (but simple and reliable) Curie chemical rocket engine.
- According to Firefly, Alpha is designed to launch a max of 1000 kg (2200 lb) to a 200 km (125 mi) low Earth orbit (LEO). Given OTVs ~ 200 kg wet mass, Alpha + OTV offer some incredible capabilities relative to the rocket's size and design.
- Powerful electric thrusters undeniably add a lot of complexity to any spacecraft that uses them but that pain is often deemed worth it for the benefits they can offer. Most notably, ion propulsion is extremely efficient.
|This graph demonstrates the potential performance benefits of Alpha + OTV relative to Alpha on its own. (Firefly)|
Alpha readies for launch
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