A rocket flown by space company Firefly Aerospace exploded shortly after it was launched for the first time Thursday off the coast of California. The company's Alpha rocket ascended into the sky for a few minutes before it exploded above the Pacific Ocean.
The launch was the company's first attempt to reach orbit. The Alpha rocket had hit supersonic speed before it encountered an "anomaly" mid-flight, which caused it to explode. The rocket was launched from the SLC-2 complex at the Vanderberg Space Force Base.
Firefly said in a statement following the failed launch that they are still gathering more information on why the rocket had exploded. The company said it will be providing more details once they become available.
Firefly's Alpha rocket suffered an anomaly after liftoff. @NASASpaceflight pic.twitter.com/H1R2eDTACE — Jack Beyer (@thejackbeyer) September 3, 2021
The Texas-based company is directly competing in the "medium-lift" space cargo category with its Alpha rocket. The 95-foot tall vehicle is capable of carrying cargo of up to 1,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit. The company said each launch costs roughly $15 million. The cost puts the rocket in competition with other rockets by space launch firms such as Virgin Orbit, Relativity Space, and ABL Space.
The launch was Firefly's first mission, called the Dedicated Research & Education Accelerator Mission (DREAM). The rocket carried several technical payloads, including satellites from Teachers in Space, Purdue University, FOSSA, and the Hawaii Science and Technology Museum. It also carried with it test aircraft from Benchmark Space Systems and Space Electric Thruster Systems. All of the cargo was launch during the explosion.
Since it was founded in 2014, the company has raised more than $175 million in funding from various investors. The company, which has a current market valuation of more than $1 billion, mainly produces small and medium-sized launch vehicles for commercial orbital launches.
Apart from its commercial launch vehicles, the company is also working on a lunar lander - called Blue Ghost - under a $93.3 million contract with NASA. Blue Ghost, described as a space utility vehicle, will be used to carry instruments on the lunar surface in future manned missions to the moon.
Firefly originally planned to launch its first Alpha rocket in December of last year. However, the company postponed the launch due to "problems" with launch site preparations and supply delays.