Firefly Aerospace reported on September 5 that its first Alpha rocket crashed seconds after lift-off when one of the first-stage engines shut down. The launch from the Vandenberg Space Force Base situated in California on September 2 ended when the rocket went out of control approximately 2½ minutes after lift-off, according to Firefly. Therange’s operator, Space Launch Delta 30, subsequently used its flight termination technology to kill the rocket.
According to a description accompanying the footage, one of the four Reaver engines in the rocket’s first stage, labelled engine 2, it shut down 15 seconds into flight. The corporation noted, “It was a quiet shutdown – the engine didn’t fail — the engine’s propellant main valves just closed and thrust from engine 2 was halted.”
Using the other three engines, the rocket proceeded to ascent, although with less thrust. That would explain the aircraft’s underperformance: the vehicle was intended to achieve Mach 1 67 seconds into this flight, but the launch controllers didn’t report the vehicle was supersonic till 2 minutes and 20 seconds after lift-off, according to the company’s press package.
“The climb rate was slow due to lacking the thrust of one of four engines, and the vehicle was difficult to retain control without a thrust vectoring of engine 2,” Firefly explained. The vehicle remained stable at subsonic velocities, but when it reached transonic speeds, “the 3-engine thrust vector regulation was insufficient, and the vehicle plummeted out of control.”
According to the footage, the rocket tumbled for around 10 seconds before being destroyed by the flight termination mechanism. The vehicle’s cargo fairing came off as the gyrations began, but the rocket remained intact, with its remaining engines running until the flight termination mechanism activated.
Before the launch, the corporation stressed that the mission was essentially a test flight with only a few cargos. In an interview, a day before the launch, Tom Markusic, Firefly’s CEO, remarked, “It’s a flight test, so obtaining data is a success.” “The more information we have, the better.”
“Firefly has launched an extensive anomaly investigation to learn why engine 2 went down early and to find any other pertinent unusual events during flight,” the firm said. “We will return as soon as possible to execute the second Alpha flight in coordination with FAA and our colleagues at Space Launch Delta 30.”