How startups and established companies join forces to transform the launch industry

The past five years have experienced a surge in launches and payloads due to the rapidly expanding commercial space sector. Many of these successes come from partnerships between established companies or space agencies and startups. This panel discussion at the 39th annual Space Symposium covers the partnership between startup Firefly Aerospace and Northrop Grumman.

“These are very different companies, and yet they’ve decided to form a partnership,” said panel moderator Jim Bridenstine, a former congressman who served as the 13th Administrator of NASA. “Not just a partnership, but a partnership on something extraordinarily difficult: spaceflight, and even resupplying the International Space Station.”

Firefly Aerospace and Northrop Grumman have partnered to develop a successor to the Antares launch vehicle, the Antares 330, with increased power, performance, and payload capacity.

“The reason it came to be on Firefly’s side is that it makes perfect sense to try to buy down the risk or meet the challenges that new space companies usually face,” said Firefly Aerospace CEO Bill Weber. “One of those is confidence and validation from the market that we can go do what we set out to do.”

Wendy Williams, vice president and general manager of Launch & Missile Defense Systems at Northrop Grumman, said the partnership has required the best of both companies.

“We are learning a lot from Firefly,” she said. “Our approach in the past has been doing a lot of analysis and having a perfect test. But it’s been exciting to watch Firefly test, and it be not quite right, and test and test and then get the perfect test. We’re creating the best of both.”