Firefly Aerospace Rocket Explodes During Inaugural Test Launch

Firefly Aerospace's first attempt at launching its two-stage Alpha rocket ended in spectacular fireworks. It was never easy to start a rocket company.


At 9:59 PM EDT, the rocket measuring 95 feet tall left Vandenberg Space Force Bases Launch Complex 2. This was the second attempt to launch the rocket on the day. The countdown was halted earlier due to an unknown reason. Two and a quarter minutes after liftoff, the Alpha rocket suffered an anomaly. Firefly Aerospace later tweeted that the incident led to the loss of the vehicle. There have been no reports of injuries.

SpaceNews and NASA Spaceflight photos show the aftermath of the failed test. The debris spewed out from the roiling fireball. Although it was not what anyone expected, Firefly founders Max Polyakov (left) and Tom Markusic (right) knew exactly what they were doing when they started the company in 2014.

According to the company, the Austin-based firm wants to supply small- and medium-sized rockets. Alpha is designed to meet the growing small-satellite market. This single-purpose rocket can lift 2,200 pounds (1,600 kg) of cargo into low Earth orbit and 1,400lbs (630 kg) into the desirable Sun-synchronous orbit. This orbit allows satellites to cross the equator simultaneously each day. Firefly plans to launch two Alpha rockets per month. Each mission will cost $15 million.

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They are not yet there. SpaceNews reports that the Alpha rocket did not perform as expected in its first launch.

Firefly distributed a mission overview before launch. It stated that the vehicle was expected to reach Mach 1 in 67 seconds. Maximum dynamic pressure would be applied nine seconds later. Launch controllers didn't report that the vehicle reached supersonic speeds until two minutes and twenty seconds after liftoff. This was about 10 seconds before it exploded.


SpaceNews reporter Jeff Foust reports that the rocket seemed to explode after it fell. Vandenberg SFB officials made it clear that Space Launch Delta 30 had ended the mission following detection of the rocket's poor performance. Officials from Vandenberg SFB warned that debris could be found in the area and suggested that any fragments or pieces of the exploded rocket be considered dangerous.

Alpha was able to carry a payload despite it being a test mission. The payload included both technical and non-technical items, such as cubesats and a drag deorbit sailing, a plasma thruster and DNA samples. There were also photos and personal items. These items were carried by Alpha as part of the Dedicated Educational and Accelerator Mission (DREAM).

Firefly stated that it was too early to draw any conclusions about the cause of the problem. However, the company achieved some objectives, such as first stage ignition, liftoff from the pad, progress to supersonic speed, and substantial flight data.


Firefly's launch is a great example of rocket science. Astro, an aerospace company, was a good example of how a rocket can perform unexpected sideways shimmys during its unsuccessful launch last week.

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