The maiden launch of Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket failed when the rocket detonated 2½ minutes after lift-off on September 2. At 9:59 p.m. Eastern, the Alpha rocket took off from the Space Launch Complex 2. For undisclosed technical reasons, a first launch attempt at 9 p.m. Eastern was cancelled in the closing seconds of the countdown, but the launch controllers reset the clock for the second launch attempt.
The rocket seemed to tumble and then burst about 2½ minutes after lift-off. Firefly tweeted, “Alpha had a malfunction during the first stage rise that led to the loss of the vehicle.”
“While it is too early to draw judgments about the core cause,” the business said later, “we will be rigorous in our study, in conjunction with the FAA as well as Vandenberg Space Force Base.” “While we did not reach all of the mission targets, we did accomplish a number of them, including successful first stage ignition, pad lift-off, supersonic speed advancement, and the collection of a significant amount of flight data.”
According to a separate statement, the launch was called off by Space Launch Delta 30 at the Vandenberg. Although the eyewitness reports of the debris from rockets falling inside town of Orcutt, California, close north of the Vandenberg, both the firm and the Space Force maintained there were no fatalities.
The rocket’s first stage may have underperformed. Firefly recently released a mission summary before the deployment, the vehicle was anticipated to enter Mach 1 67 seconds after lift-off, with maximum dynamic pressure 9 seconds later. However, it wasn’t till 2 minutes 20 seconds after the lift-off, approximately 10 seconds before the aircraft exploded, that the launch controllers came to realize the vehicle was supersonic.
Before this launch, company management stressed that flight was simply a test. “Getting Alpha to space is a huge aim for us. “If we can go to orbit, that’s even better,” Lauren Lyons, Firefly’s chief operating officer, said during a tour of the firm’s launch control center on September 1. “Our objectives are to gather as much information as possible and to push Alpha beyond that to go.”
On the Dedicated Research and Educational Accelerator Mission (DREAM), the Alpha was carrying around 92 kg of payloads. Several cubesats were among the payloads, as were technology demonstrations such as a plasma thruster and the drag deorbit sail, as well as “non-technical” payloads such as images and memorabilia.
The mission was planned to travel west instead of south, as is customary with polar-orbit deployments from Vandenberg. While this limited the mission’s payload performance, it rendered range safety easier for an untested rocket.