AUSTIN, Texas - A Cedar Park company is making another big step in the commercial space business. Firefly Aerospace is currently developing a new rocket for Northrop Grumman, and this week completed its first engine test as part of that deal.
At Firefly's rocket ranch in Briggs, several clouds of smoke were spotted Wednesday around noon. A few days earlier, this larger test-firing took place on the company's new engine called Miranda.
"Getting that first bit of fire is (makes a snap of fingers)," said Miles Gray, Firefly’s chief engineer for the project.
The Cedar Park-based space company made headlines last year by winning a NASA contract to build a new lunar lander. This new rocket project with Northrop Grumman came about because of the war in Ukraine.
"We're on the stage now. We're in the show," said Gray.
Firefly is replacing Russian-made engines that are no longer available due to economic sanctions.
Also, the first stage for the new Antares 330. The factory in Ukraine that made the original rocket was attacked by Russian forces. With the first flight set for 2025, Firefly put the project on a fast track leading up to the big test in Briggs.
"So this is the first kind of really big, visible milestone for development of this vehicle," said Gray.
Firefly is doubling the size of its facilities and will use new automated equipment to speed up production.
"We have a new building for our fiber placement machines. So it's basically like a giant 3D printer for composites. So that's how we're making our structures. There are expansions of machine shops. There's a giant new engine test stand that is for this engine that we fired the other day," said Gray.
It certainly would be fair to say that there's more livestock than people in Briggs. But when the company first arrived, the testing, and all the rumbling from that testing, did cause some grumbling. Now with the company expanding and the growth coming out here to this part of Burnet County, the need to be a good neighbor is even more important. A new fire station was built near the test site along Hwy 183. The company also made a $12,000 donation to the fire department.
"The noise hasn't changed. I think a lot of people have gotten used to it, but they do. They put out notifications. They have a texting system that will send out a text message prior to their test going off," said Chief Forrest Freitas with the Northeast Burnet County Fire/Rescue.
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A resident showed FOX 7 a text alert for a test Wednesday. The big concern for residents who spoke to FOX 7 is about new residential growth more than the big noise from their space-age neighbor.
"It's pretty neat that they've got it going on out here. We got plenty of land, and the fact that they keep us all updated with everything that they're doing is really cool too," said resident Elizabeth Carlton.
The company does not do late night testing, but more test firings are expected.
"There are a lot of things we're working on to make sure that we're, you know, staying good neighbors, not making anybody too upset," said Gray.
Getting what Firefly builds into space, maybe easier than getting to the launchpad.
"The new rocket is a blast off from an island along the Virginia coastline," Gray said.
The delivery will involve trucks, planes and even barges. He added the logistics of doing that is still being worked out.