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Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket explodes minutes after launch

Several minutes after launch, Firefly Aerospace's first Alpha rocket exploded. Credit: Lavie Ohana / Space Scout (@wearespacescout)

Several minutes after launch, Firefly Aerospace’s first Alpha rocket exploded. Credit: Lavie Ohana / Space Scout (@wearespacescout)

After years of development, Firefly Aerospace launched its first Alpha rocket on its first attempt. However, the vehicle exploded some 2.5 minutes into flight.

The cause of the anomaly is not yet known. However, it’s not every day a startup company gets its rocket as far as it did on its first attempt. Even SpaceX only made it to orbit with its Falcon 1 on its fourth try.

Credit: Lavie Ohana / Space Scout (@wearespacescout)

Credit: Lavie Ohana / Space Scout (@wearespacescout)

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

Liftoff took place at 9:59 p.m. EDT Sept. 2 (1:59 UTC Sept. 3), 2021, from Space Launch Complex 2 West at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. This was about an hour after its first attempt, which aborted about 15 seconds before the planned T-minus zero.

The 95-foot-tall (29-meter-tall) Alpha is a two-stage expendable rocket developed to launch small commercial satellites for customers by providing both full vehicle and ride-share launch options.

It can launch as much as 1,000 kilograms of payload at a price of about $15 million per launch to low Earth orbit, putting the aerospace company in the small-lift launch category competing with other launch companies such as Virgin Orbit, ABL Space and Relativity Space and Rocket Lab.

The first stage of Firefly Alpha is powered by four Reaver 1 engines that consume liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene while the second stage is powered by one Lightning 1 engine that also consumes liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene.

Its payload included a manifest of technology, pictures of loved ones, DNA samples and CubeSats.

Earlier this year Firefly Aerospace raised $75 million in private funding to prepare for its inaugural launch as the space company also prepares to execute its Blue Ghost lunar-lander program.

Several minutes after launch, Firefly Aerospace's first Alpha rocket exploded. Credit: Lavie Ohana / Space Scout (@wearespacescout)

Credit: Lavie Ohana / Space Scout (@wearespacescout)

Firefly’s valuation is “just over a billion dollars” with plans to raise an additional $300 million after this, its first successful launch, Firefly co-founder and CEO Tom Markusic told CNBC in May of 2021.

Markusic previously worked for SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. The CEO and co-founder told CNBC that he “sees the space industry as more cooperative than competitive.”

The company was originally founded in 2014 but after a major investor pulled out of its Series A funding due to the financial implications of the British exit from the European Union, the rocket company had to file for bankruptcy in 2017.

Four years after suffering financial setbacks, Firefly Aerospace won a $93.3 million contract from NASA to deliver payloads on the Moon in 2023.

Video courtesy of Everyday Astronaut / Firefly Alpha


Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.

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