Rocket company lands in Central Texas

Sep 11, 2014
Austin American Statesman

In a boost for Austin’s nascent space sector, a California company has bought 200 acres in Burnet County to test rocket engines and is moving its headquarters to the area


Firefly Space Systems of Hawthorne, Calif., on Wednesday confirmed the purchase of 200 acres of farmland near the unincorporated community of Briggs, northeast of the city of Burnet, as the site where it will test the next generation of small rocket engines


The company is still looking for office space in North Austin or its suburbs, but is negotiating with Cedar Park officials to make that city its headquarters


“It’s the leading horse in the race,” said PJ King, the company’s chief operating officer


Once it’s here, the company will begin hiring engineers to develop its rocket engines in collaboration with the University of Texas


Michael Rollins, president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said relocating the California space startup to Central Texas is a victory for the region


Internationally, the private sector is taking on a greater role in transporting people, goods and satellites into space. For several months, Rollins has had a committee studying whether Opportunity Austin, the region’s economic development arm, should focus on leveraging Central Texas’ technology expertise to become a space economy hub


The committee’s recommendation could come as early as next month, but Firefly Space Systems’ announcement comes just weeks after SpaceX — perhaps the private sector’s most successful “New Space” company — announced it will build a commercial launch site on a beach near the South Texas city of Brownsville


Firefly Space Systems is attempting to build the world’s lowest-cost, small satellite delivery system. If it works, customers would spend $8 million to $9 million per launch as opposed to the starting rate of $25 million to $30 million charged now by Russia, according to company officials


King said he expects the company to hire up to 200 workers, mostly engineers, over the next three or four years


King urged engineering candidates to apply on the company’s website, www.fireflyspace.com


Last month, the company said it would run engineering simulation software by ANSYS Inc. on the supercomputer Stampede at UT’s Texas Advanced Computing Center


With that partnership, Firefly officials said, a complex simulation of a rocket subsystem will now be accurately achieved in just seconds


UT and its advanced computing center “are both proving to be integral and hugely valuable partners, not only through Stampede, but also via their top-notch engineering talent who are now part of the Firefly team,” said Christina Kang, Firefly’s human resource manager


King said Firefly was attracted to Central Texas because of the state’s business and regulatory climate, UT’s engineering programs and as an area where the company’s co-founders and management team would be willing to live


He said the test site was a critical piece since it must be built first to test the new engines to avoid any delay in launching rockets by 2017. But rockets won’t be launched at the Burnet County site



Print Article opens in new window