Firefly’s new Automated Fiber Placement (AFP) machine. (Image courtesy Firefly Aerospace/PRNewswire)

The company is leveraging new automated machinery to rapidly fabricate carbon composite structures, including barrels and domes, more efficiently and cost-effectively.

BRIGGS, Texas—Space transportation company Firefly Aerospace, Inc., recently expanded its launch vehicle test and production facility (Rocket Ranch) in Briggs, more than doubling the size of its manufacturing facilities from 92,000 square feet to 207,000 square feet, the company said in a release.

Firefly reported that it added two new test stands and installed state-of-the-art machinery to support the production of Northrop Grumman’s Antares 330 and the Medium Launch Vehicle (MLV), which the companies are co-developing together.

The company’s expanded manufacturing space includes two new large-scale buildings for rocket production, assembly, and integration. Firefly also said it built a new higher-thrust engine stand to test its Miranda and Vira engines with up to 230,000 pounds of thrust and five times the load capacity of its current Reaver and Lightning engine stand. The new engine stand, designed to accommodate three engine bays as production cadence increases, is reported to provide redundant, high accuracy thrust and mass flow rate data to further improve mission assurance.

The expansion is also reported to include a new 100-foot structural test stand to conduct pressurized axial loading to mimic flight loads. Firefly now has a total of six test stands at its Briggs location “to support the robust testing performed across all vehicle lines,” the company said in the release.

“After Firefly signed the MLV agreement with Northrop Grumman, we went immediately to work on our Briggs expansion, which has been completed in less than a year’s time,” said Bill Weber, CEO of Firefly Aerospace, in a statement. “Along with the expansion, we’re taking advantage of automated machinery to further advance our rapid production schedule while improving efficiencies and lowering costs.”

Firefly’s new multi-bay engine test stand for MLV’s first stage Miranda engines and second stage Vira engine.

Firefly said it is using a new automated fiber placement (AFP) machine to rapidly fabricate  carbon composite structures, including barrels, domes, and other composite structures, for the first stage of Antares 330 and both stages of MLV. The AFP machine was used recently to build Firefly’s first carbon composite barrel for MLV development testing. It is sourced from Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc., a brand of Camozzi Group’s Machine Tool Division, the company said.

“Firefly’s new AFP machinery, which is already widely used and proven in the aircraft industry, is a significantly more efficient and cost-effective approach to rocket production and can be utilized for composite parts across our vehicle lines,” said Dan Fermon, COO of Firefly Aerospace, in the release. “These high-speed robotic machines can lay up more than 200 pounds of carbon fiber per hour, allowing us to produce all the large carbon composite structures for Alpha in just seven days, and [for] MLV in just 30 days. This is about nine times faster and seven times cheaper than our former process using high-touch laser placement systems.”

In addition to the AFP machine, Firefly said it is also installing a new 7-axis robotic power mill to drill and trim carbon composite structures with high speed and accuracy. The multi-axis machine, also procured from Ingersoll Machine Tools Inc., can reportedly rotate rocket barrels up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) in diameter with a built-in dust collection system.

Firefly reported that it also expanded two new mission operations centers at its spacecraft facility in Cedar Park, Texas, to support a growing number of launch, lunar, and on-orbit missions. The company also expanded its Cedar Park headquarters with a mezzanine to accommodate nearly twice as many employees, the release said.

Firefly describes itself as an end-to-end space transportation company with launch, lunar, and in-space services. The company’s small- to medium-lift launch vehicles, lunar landers, and orbital vehicles are said to “provide the space industry with a single source for missions from low Earth orbit to the surface of the Moon and beyond.”