WASHINGTON — The private small satellite launcher Firefly has signed a significant new contract with aerospace and defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Under the agreement announced June 5, Firefly will provide Lockheed Martin with as many as 25 dedicated launches aboard its Alpha rocket through 2029.

The deal includes 15 firm launch reservations, as well as options for an additional 10 missions. Lockheed Martin payloads will be deployed to low-Earth orbit from Firefly’s launch pads on both U.S. coasts. The first of these missions is targeted to occur later this year aboard the sixth flight of Firefly’s Alpha rocket, which will lift off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

Firefly’s next scheduled launch is a NASA mission as part of the agency’s Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration program.

The agreement with Firefly “diversifies our access to space,” said Bob Behnken, director of Lockheed Martin’s Ignite Technology Acceleration program. The company plans to fund a series of small-satellite space missions to demonstrate technologies that it’s marketing to U.S. government customers. The value of the deal was not disclosed. 

The contract with Firefly includes rapid call-up services, including transporting the payload fairing to the launch pad, mating it to the Alpha rocket, and launching within just hours of final preparations. 

Vote of confidence despite prior hiccup

The new contract from Lockheed comes just months after a mission anomaly involving one of the aerospace giant’s payloads on an earlier Firefly launch. In December 2023, Firefly’s Alpha rocket experienced an upper stage issue that left a 300-pound Lockheed Martin technology demonstration payload in the wrong orbit.

The spacecraft, an electronically steerable antenna flying aboard a Terran Orbital satellite bus, ended up in a much lower orbit than planned due to the mishap during the December 22nd launch. However, Lockheed Martin said its payload ultimately “exceeded our expectations and successfully completed all primary mission objectives” despite the unplanned orbital insertion.

Lockheed Martin in 2021 signed an agreement to launch up to 58 payloads with ABL Space, a small-satellite launcher in which Lockheed Martin has made a strategic investment. ABL’s first launch attempt failed and the company is preparing to try again.

Lockheed Martin said the company intends to continue to work with ABL.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...