Main Engine Cut Off

Firefly Wins MECO’s 2019 Bad Decision of the Year Award

Talk about burying news. Firefly and Aerojet Rocketdyne announced a partnership late Friday afternoon on the weekend before IAC 2019, and all the way at the end of the generic press release is this:

Dr. Markusic added, “Firefly is committed to flying Beta, our medium class launch vehicle. Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine, which incorporates the latest advances in propulsion technology, materials science and manufacturing techniques, is incredibly well suited to power Beta given its cost-effective, high performance capabilities. By cooperating on this development, we are accelerating our time to market and providing our customers with high confidence in Beta’s schedule, performance and reliability.”

I’ve been genuinely excited to see what Firefly can do in the launch market.

And I still am excited to see Alpha, but for Beta, this is a major violation of the rocket equivalent of Alan Kay’s theorem: people who are really serious about launch services should make their own engines.

Not only are they violating that rule, but they’re violating it and partnering with a slow-moving company that has a long history of expensive engines.

It’s possible that Firefly realized that the 3-core Beta vehicle would be overly complex, and needed to simplify down to a bigger (hopefully reusable) single-core that could still lift Beta-level payloads. If that’s the case, I’m curious why they’d go with AR1 instead of a cluster of their own engines.

I hope we find out.