Photos show space company Firefly’s first rocket explode during launch above California


Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket accelerates away from SLC-2 at Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 2, 2021.

Andrew Evers | CNBC

Space company Firefly launched its inaugural Alpha rocket on a cloudless Thursday evening over the California coast.

The Alpha rocket took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base’s SLC-2 complex, climbing west over the Pacific.

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 2, 2021.

Andrew Evers | CNBC

But about 2½ minutes after launch, Firefly’s rocket began flipping end over end and exploded in the air.

The flight termination system on Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket detonates after it launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 2, 2021.

Andrew Evers | CNBC

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket explodes in a fireball in the sky above California after launching from Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 2, 2021.

Andrew Evers | CNBC

The company’s first Alpha rocket explodes during its orbital launch attempt on Sept. 2, 2021.

Firefly Aerospace

The Vandenberg’s Space Launch Delta 30 unit confirmed that it triggered the Alpha rocket’s flight termination system, causing the explosion.

“A team of investigators will convene to determine the cause of the failure,” Space Launch Delta 30 said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating. The agency told CNBC in a statement that there were no reported injuries or damage to public property but is aware of reports regarding possible debris falling to the ground.

Firefly’s Alpha rocket is grounded “until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety,” the agency added.

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket stands on the launchpad at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on September 2, 2021.

Andrew Evers | CNBC

Firefly was attempting to reach orbit on the company’s first-ever launch, which would have been a rare feat for private rocket builder. The first orbital launch attempts of other private rocket builders — SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and Astra — suffered a variety of failures, with the former three companies reaching orbit on later attempts.

A Firefly statement emphasized that its Alpha test flight achieved “a number of” mission objectives, including: booster ignition, liftoff and supersonic speed, and collected “a substantial amount of flight data.”

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