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Firefly Alpha explodes during first launch

VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. — Firefly Aerospace’s first launch of its Alpha rocket ended in failure when the rocket exploded two minutes after liftoff Sept. 2

The Alpha rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 2 here at 9:59 p.m. Eastern. A first launch attempt at 9 p.m. Eastern was aborted in the final seconds of the countdown for unspecified technical reasons.

About two minutes after liftoff, the rocket appeared to tumble and then explode. “Alpha experienced an anomaly during first stage ascent that resulted in the loss of the vehicle,” Firefly tweeted. The company said it would provide more details later.

Company executives emphasized before the launch that the flight was primarily a test. “Our really big goal is to get Alpha to space. If we can get to orbit, even better,” said Lauren Lyons, chief operating officer of Firefly, during a Sept. 1 tour of the company’s launch control center. “Our goals are to collect as much data as we possibly can and take Alpha as far as it can go.”

The Alpha was carrying about 92 kilograms of payloads on what it called the Dedicated Research and Educational Accelerator Mission (DREAM). That included several cubesats, technology demonstrations of a plasma thruster and drag deorbit sail, and “non-technical” payloads like photos and memorabilia.

The missions was designed to fly to the west, rather than to the south as is typical for polar-orbit launches from Vandenberg. While that reduced the payload performance for the mission, it made range safety simpler for an untried rocket.

“If we were flying due south, we’d have a very tight corridor we’d have to go down though,” said Tom Markusic, chief executive of Firefly, in a Sept. 1 interview at the pad. “Here, we have a very wide corridor so that, if the vehicle’s not tracking quite right, it gives us an opportunity to get back on track without having to terminate the mission.”

“It’s a flight test, so getting data is success,” he said. “The more data we get, the better.”

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