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Firefly Alpha rocket spectacularly explodes two minutes after launch

Firefly said that it is ‘too early to draw conclusions as to the root cause’ but its engineers are ‘combing through thousands of lines’ of data

Adam Smith
Friday 03 September 2021 16:49
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Space company Firefly’s Alpha rocket exploded in the air a few minutes after launching Thursday evening.

FireFly Aerospace is a private company based in Texas, owned by the Ukrainian company Noosphere Ventures, with the Alpha being its first craft. It featured a 1000kg payload that was designed to reach low Earth orbit, at a cost of $15 million per launch.

It is not entirely clear what happened to the 29 metre-tall rocket that brought its flight to an abrupt end.

“Alpha experienced an anomaly during first stage ascent that resulted in the loss of the vehicle. As we gather more information, additional details will be provided,” the company said in a tweet.

“Prior to entering the countdown, the Range cleared the pad and all surrounding areas to minimize risk to Firefly employees, base staff, and the general public. We are continuing to work with the Range, following all safety protocols.”

An early countdown prior to the rocket’s launch was cancelled due to unspecified technical reasons, but it was allowed to fly on its second attempt before exploding approximately two and a half minutes from the ground.

Sky News notes that the rocket seemed to take twice as long to break the sound barrier than expected. It took 140 seconds to reach Mach 1, rather than the predicted 67 seconds, and exploded 10 seconds later.

Alpha is not the only craft that Firefly is developing. It is also has a concept Beta, which began as three Alpha cores strapped together but was redesigned last year to be a larger version of the Alpha model. The first stage of Beta will be 3.7 metres in diameter with, using five Reaver engines to deliver a 8000 kilogram payload into low-Earth orbit.

In a statement, Firefly said that it is “too early to draw conclusions as to the root cause” but that its engineers are “currently combing through thousands of lines of ground and flight system telemetry in order to better understand what occurred”.

However, the company also said they achieved a number of its mission objectives: successful first stage ignition, liftoff of the pad, progression to supersonic speed, and obtaining a substantial amount of flight data.

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