Firefly Elytra Is the Space SUV You Never Knew We Needed

Firefly Elytra 6 photos
Photo: Firefly Aerospace
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Humanity has long passed a very important line when it comes to space exploration and space services: it no longer plans to launch only satellites dedicated to this or that task, but it now develops platforms meant to help with the logistics of space exploration.
What that means is that there are now companies dedicated to creating space tools that can be used for a variety of tasks, including satellite servicing and refueling. And a new name is now entering this world, thanks to a company called Firefly Aerospace.

The name may sound familiar, as it's recently been in the news thanks to it being chosen by NASA to deliver the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE) hardware to the Moon using an in-house made lunar lander called Blue Ghost.

This week Firefly shifted the public's attention to something called the Elytra, after the wing cases of some insects. We're talking about a “highly mobile and scalable” class of space vehicles meant to help with “on-orbit mobility, hosting, delivery, and servicing.“

The tech was until recently known as the Space Utility Vehicle (SUV) and it comes in three variants, Dawn, Dusk, and Dark. The main things that set them apart are how far the orbit they can reach is, but also their capabilities.

Elytra Dawn is meant for use in low-Earth orbit and is aimed at supporting delivery missions. Dusk can work as far out as the geosynchronous orbit, and comes in handy when there's need for relocating satellites or even de-orbiting them in a fashion that doesn't produce dangerous debris.

The most capable of the new space SUVs is the Dark, meant to provide assistance to orbital infrastructure (like say space stations) and aid with transfer of hardware from low-Earth orbit to lunar orbit.

To make these floating platforms Firefly used hardware that's also deployed on its Alpha launch vehicle, but also systems that are going into the Blue Ghost. In fact, the platform uses a lot of the tech developed for the lander, including carbon composite structures, avionics, and propulsion.

None of the announced Elytras have been put through their paces during an actual mission to space. That will change though next year, when the Texas-based space company will launch the Alpha with one of these platforms on board, a Dawn version of the SUV.

The mission is scheduled to depart from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California and it's meant to “demonstrate the responsive on-orbit capabilities of our Elytra vehicle.”

More to the point the Dawn will be used to rapidly reconfigure a payload. It will also deploy the payloads of paying customers that will go up with it, and then reposition itself to be ready to deploy other payloads on demand.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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