Editor’s Note – This article originally stated the cost of the October 1st flight was $15 million for the fuel alone. That amount was for the total cost of a flight.
CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — Another one of Central Texas’ “best-kept secrets,” Firefly Aerospace, is breaking new ground when it comes to space transportation. Earlier this month, the company broke a new record, becoming “the first U.S.-based launch company that launched from the United States to get into orbit on their second attempt,” said CEO Bill Weber.
On Oct. 1, the company launched its Alpha rocket into orbit from a launchpad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The flight was meant to be just a test flight.
“If you can launch a rocket, put it into orbit and release payloads in your first 30 days as a CEO, I highly recommend that,” Weber said. He joined the company in September.
Austin, Texas’ secret space industry
Most people likely don’t know that a massive space flight company, besides SpaceX, is based in Central Texas. Firefly Aerospace is hidden in an unassuming business complex in Cedar Park. Besides a logo on the glass doors, there is no signage pointing toward the facility.
“I’m not sure that Austin realizes all of that’s happening right here in our general location with folks that live in the Austin community,” Weber said, referring to the company as one of the area’s “best-kept secrets.”
The company employs around 500 people from the Austin area. Some work at the Cedar Park facility. Others at a facility in Briggs, Texas where the company builds and tests its own rockets.
It’ll blow your mind to see what we’re capable of just right here in the near geography.Bill Weber, CEO Firefly Aerospace
Another facility just a few miles away is a construction site where the company is working on a lunar lander for NASA. The lander will be used to support NASA’s return to moon and could be the one of the first U.S. landers on the moon in decades, depending on scheduling.
Firefly Aerospace and the space trucking industry
“Ultimately the intention is that we’re an end-to-end space transportation services company,” Weber said. Once they’re fully operational, they hope to launch rockets once a week at one of three launch pads — one at Vandenberg and two others currently under construction at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The rockets the company launches are designed for transport. They can carry satellites or other objects into space. They will also be able to move things already in orbit.
Each rocket launch, with a full payload, costs around $15 million. The October 1st flight was a demonstration, so that cost was not passed on to the customers.
The growing Austin space industry
You can’t talk about the private space industry without talking about Space X. Weber said the company opened a lot of doors for the rest of the industry, including for Firefly Aerospace.
“There’s plenty of room for multiple companies out there, companies like Firefly and SpaceX to exist to coexist. And so the end of the market that we’re operating in the small and medium-sized launch, and the spacecraft that we build here in Austin, they can fit very, very well alongside a competitive environment with SpaceX.”
In September, the Elon Musk-owned company announced plans to build a facility in Bastrop County, right down the road from his Tesla gigaplant. While little is known about the facility, it will be more than 520,000 square feet in size, according to filings obtained by the Austin Business Journal.
Webber thinks the reason that company and Firefly Aerospace are choosing Austin as a new space hub is due to resources. He cites the many space-adjacent industries and the University of Texas as reasons the industry is choosing Central Texas as its new home.