Enjoy all your local news and sports for less than 6¢ per day.

Subscribe Now

Firefly Aerospace shoots for the moon from rural Burnet County

The Firefly Aerospace logo glows at the company’s Cedar Park headquarters, which employees affectionately call 'The Hive.' The staff noted that they understand fireflies do not actually live in hives, but the name stuck. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Rocket ships, lunar landers, and the final frontier probably don’t come to mind when you think of Briggs, Texas, but they should. This small, unincorporated corner of Burnet County is home to a 200-acre, cutting-edge aerospace testing and manufacturing facility affectionately called “Rocket Ranch” by the Firefly Aerospace crew.

Rocket Ranch is currently ground zero for Firefly’s spot in commercialized space travel. The growing space firm has been building rockets in the county for nine years. Expansion recently kicked into overdrive thanks to massive contracts with NASA and a fresh partnership with veteran technology and design corporate titan Northrop Grumman. 

“We will land softly on the moon later this year, or we will launch and orbit and be in position to do that,” Firefly CEO Bill Weber said during a rousing speech at a ribbon-cutting for a new manufacturing floor at the Briggs site on Feb. 28. “We will do that this year. That is not a dream down the road. That is a real program with real people who have put their hearts, their souls, and their entire professional lives into making it happen. We will succeed.”

Weber spoke to a crowd of hundreds that included dozens of Firefly employees, visiting government officials, and the media. 

Burnet County officials had a front-row seat at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Medium Launch Vehicle from Firefly Aerospace and Northrop Grumman. Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd (left) poses with Precinct 3 Commissioner Damon Beierle, U.S. Rep. John Carter, Burnet County Judge James Oakley, Firefly CEO Bill Weber, and BCSO Chief Deputy Alan Trevino. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The ribbon-cutting publicly unveiled a massive manufacturing facility that builds components for rockets and spacecraft of unprecedented sizes. Firefly’s latest project, dubbed the Medium Launch Vehicle, is a product of the Northrop Grumman partnership. It will be capable of delivering over 35,000 pounds into low-earth orbit. 

Weber made sure to credit the government officials who paved the way for Firefly’s work and presence in Burnet County. He specifically thanked Burnet County Judge James Oakley and Precinct 2 Commissioner Damon Beierle, who both had seats in the audience. Firefly is in Precinct 2. 

“Everything, when it comes to the county, our relationship, and our communication, has been good,” Beierle told The Picayune Magazine in a recent interview. “(Firefly) wants to work with us. They don’t want to be a burden on the community, but they want to do what they need to do to get things done.”

Firefly isn’t just building rockets in Briggs, it’s also testing them, which has led to complaints from nearby residents. 

“It’s a mixed bag of varying degrees of acceptance,” Beierle said. “Some of the neighbors want it to be quiet. Balancing that is a challenge.”

Testing consists of actually firing the rockets on huge platforms designed to withstand the immense thrust produced by the high-tech engines that propel the rockets into space. 

“We do everything as close to flight as possible,” said Head of Testing Dave Ogden. “Our motto is ‘test, test, fly.’ We simulate everything like the launch pad and do everything except for letting go.”

The actual launches don’t happen in Briggs. Rockets are shipped to Vandenberg Space Force Base in California for the real thing, but the testing is indisputably loud for locals.

According to Beierle, testing has been restricted to daylight hours to avoid disturbing neighbors at night.

“They’ve been very responsive and reactive to the community’s needs,” he said about Firefly. 

An enormous rocket body stretches the length of a manufacturing warehouse at ‘Rocket Ranch’ in Briggs. Firefly Aerospace has embraced its Lone Star roots, and a Texas flag or a ‘Come and Take It’ flag adorns the walls of many of its facilities. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Briggs, Burnet County, and Texas are perfectly suited to the needs and ambitions of the company, said Firefly co-founder Eric Salwan.

“Part of the culture at Firefly is move fast, get things done, build it yourself,” he said. “That is the Texas ethos. We specifically came to Texas and put Firefly here because of that. In order to survive in this business, you have to go fast and do everything on your own.”

Briggs, specifically, was chosen because of its proximity to Firefly headquarters, which is just 30 minutes away in Cedar Park. The rural nature of northeast Burnet County provides ample space for the enormous facilities needed to build a rocket and test it. Also, Salwan said, the company felt welcome in Burnet County. 

“We spoke with the commissioner (Beierle) and the judge (Oakley), and they were super supportive of having Firefly be located in Burnet County,” he said. “That was really the feeling that we got: that we would be welcome here and that this would be a great place for us to host our facilities.”

Three hundred of Firefly’s 700 employees work in Briggs. The staff includes everyone from welders to rocket scientists, all working toward the same goal: making spaceships.

The company currently has a $112 million contract with NASA to create a lunar lander, which is expected to be on the moon’s surface by the end of 2024. Named Blue Ghost, the lander will carry a suite of high-tech instruments that will collect valuable data for NASA and other research teams.

While touring Firefly’s propulsion lab, this reporter asked Director of Propulsion Engineering Brigette Oakes what it felt like to know her work would be taking humanity to the stars.

“Awesome,” she said. “I don’t know if I can sum it up into a clip, but it is the best feeling.”

Firefly’s CEO wants generations of Burnet County residents to share in that feeling. His goal is to bring out-of-this-world job opportunities to the community.

“As Firefly grows, we’re going to need a lot more people,” Weber said. “We need all kinds. We need folks from everywhere and every vocation, straight out of high school or with advanced degrees. We believe that’s what this facility represents for Burnet County and Central Texas: You don’t have to go somewhere else to work in an industry like space.”

Commissioner Beierle has been working with the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District and Firefly to make sure Burnet High School students know they have this sort of opportunity in their backyard.

“Firefly is making huge advances,” he said. “I think it puts Burnet County on the map. I hope that locals will have opportunities to go up there and work and succeed and enrich their lives.”

In other words, shoot for the moon.

2 thoughts on “Firefly Aerospace shoots for the moon from rural Burnet County

  1. Woah!, This is very interesting, Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Cool project that should have many benefits for the future of the county. Of course, I don’t live within earshot, or I might not think it’s so cool.

Comments are closed. moderates all comments. Comments with profanity, violent or discriminatory language, defamatory statements, or threats will not be allowed. The opinions and views expressed here are those of the person commenting and do not necessarily reflect the official position of or Victory Media Marketing.