This Company Just Sent A Payload To The Wrong Orbit After A Computer Glitch

The fourth launch of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket, known as Fly the Lightning, encountered complications that hindered its trajectory despite successfully delivering a payload developed by Lockheed Martin to low Earth orbit (LEO).

The mission, which occurred on December 22 of the previous year, aimed to deploy an electronically steerable antenna payload to LEO. Although the payload reached LEO, the rocket failed to achieve the intended orbit, prompting Firefly Aerospace to investigate the mishap thoroughly.

Following the investigation, Firefly Aerospace disclosed that a software issue in the Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) algorithm caused the mishap. The company provided an update on Tuesday, stating, “The investigation determined the mishap was due to an error in the Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) software algorithm that prevented the system from sending the necessary pulse commands to the Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters ahead of the stage two engine relight.”

To address the issue, Firefly Aerospace is implementing corrective actions to rectify the GNC software glitch and prevent similar occurrences. Despite the challenges posed by the software glitch, Firefly emphasized that the mission was not entirely unsuccessful. The payload was deployed in an orbit, enabling the mission partner to fulfill primary mission objectives, including rapid satellite commissioning following insertion into orbit.

The payload, designed to demonstrate faster on-orbit sensor calibration for U.S. warfighters, underscores the mission’s significance. Fly the Lightning marked Firefly’s fourth orbital mission with the Alpha rocket. Previous launches included a failed test mission in September 2021, a partially successful mission in October 2022, and a highly successful mission for the U.S. Space Force called Victus Nox in September 2023.

The successful completion of the Victus Nox mission set a new record for national security missions, with Alpha launching just 27 hours after receiving the order and deploying the primary satellite into the designated orbit.

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