Photos show space company Firefly’s first rocket explode mid-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 Ocean.

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

But, about two minutes and 30 seconds into the flight, the rocket suffered an anomaly and began flipping end-over-end, before it was terminated and exploded mid-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 in a news release 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 launch mishap. The agency told CNBC in a statement that there were “no reported injuries or damage to publicly property” but “the FAA 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 each suffered a wide variety of failures, with the former three companies reaching orbit on later attempts.

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

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