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To take up as little space as possible, Firefly is stowed folded, with its main wing pivoting 90 degrees, and its tails collapsing like switchblade knives. The folding mechanisms must allow the vehicle to deploy at supersonic speeds, but are about the size of a silver dollar (for the wing) and a gumdrop (for the tail). To stabilize the vehicle in the high-speed launch environment, a shuttlecock system is designed. The shuttlecock has long folding fins for stability and carries the laser ignition system for the motor onboard Rendering shows the Firefly vehicle with shuttlecock attached. In the lower image, the stabilizer fins have unfolded to the rear, enabling Firefly’s wings and tails to deploy. The wings and tails are Firefly. When oscillations from made from carbon fiber while the vehicle chassis is 3D-printed metal. (Beaver Works image) deployment have subsided and the motor is ignited, the shuttlecock splits, disengages from Firefly, and falls away, leaving Firefly in its low-drag cruise configuration. Indeed, the Firefly project breaks new ground in slow-burn propulsion systems, system configuration and packaging, thermal design, and folding mechanisms, all at micro scale. The Beaver Works Firefly team is led by AeroAstro grad students Tony Tao and Matt Vernacchia and includes undergrads Zach Bierstedt, Sasha Galitsky, Charlie Garcia, Madeleine Jansson, Michael Trinh, and Juju Wang. Past team members were Andrew Adams, Brad Jokubaitis, and Jonathan Zdasiuk. The team conducts its research and development in the AeroAstro’s Gelb Laboratory, with chemical handling facilities and blast chamber in the Ronald McNair Building (Building 37). TONY TAO is a graduate student in the AeroAstro Department and a leader of the Beaver Works Firefly Team. He may be reached at


AEROASTRO 2015-2016

MIT AeroAstro annual magazine 2015-2016Aeroastro 2015 16  

Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.

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