Firefly launched its first rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, and on board it carried a number of payloads with an intended destination of low Earth orbit. The rocket took off as planned, and seemed to be doing fairly well during the initial portion of the launch, before experiencing “an anomaly” that clearly resulted in an explosion and the total loss of the vehicle prior to reaching space.
The rocket that flew today is Firefly’s Alpha launch vehicle, its first, and this was its first launch attempt ever of the spacecraft. Actually getting off the pad on the first try is in itself an accomplishment, and the loss of the vehicle looks to have taken place some time after what’s known as ‘max q,’ or the time when the spacecraft is experiencing the most aerodynamic stress prior to leaving Earth’s atmosphere.
Firefly issued a statement via Twitter shortly after the explosion was broadcast on a live stream hosted by Everyday Astronaut, which included official audio and video provided by the company. It added that the ground staff had cleared the pad and surrounding areas in order to minimize risk and in adherence with safety protocols.
The company expects to provide more details about what happened with the Alpha rocket and why the craft was lost later, and we’ll update accordingly.
A private commercial launch firm based in Austin, Firefly was originally founded in 2014 and survived a bankruptcy to emerge as Firefly Aerospace in 2017. The company’s Alpha rocket is a fully expendable small launch vehicle that can carry around 2,200 lbs to low-Earth orbit, and it’s also developing a Beta rocket that should be able to carry around 17,000 lbs of payload to LEO.