Image courtesy: CNN
Firefly’s Alpha rocket burst mid-flight on Thursday, but the firm released a new video on Sunday with further information about what happened. “Although the spacecraft did not reach orbit, the day represented a significant advancement for our team,” the firm said in a tweet. “We showed that we had ‘arrived’ as a firm capable of producing and launching rockets.”
Alpha, a two-stage rocket, launched from the Vandenberg Space Force facility in California on Thursday at 9:59 p.m. ET, carrying a cargo of commercial satellites. It was the company’s maiden flight, and two minutes after liftoff, the rocket started tilting horizontally, falling short of its maximum aerodynamic pressure.
According to Firefly, the rocket successfully cleared the launch pad, but around 15 seconds into flight, engine 2 stopped down. The vehicle maintained its rise and was able to maintain control for around 145 seconds, according to Firefly, although the pace of ascent was slow due to a loss of thrust from one of its four engines (the one that shut down).
“The vehicle was challenged to retain control in the absence of engine 2 thrust vectoring. Alpha was able to compensate at subsonic speeds, but when it transitioned into transonic and supersonic flight, where control is most difficult, the three engine thrust vector control proved insufficient, and the vehicle crashed out of control,” according to Firefly. “The flight was ended by the range utilising the explosive Flight Termination System” (FTS). The rocket did not spontaneously detonate.”
It is examining why engine 2 shut down early and promises to reveal the fundamental reason once the study is done. “We will return to conduct Alpha Flight 2 as soon as feasible in conjunction with the FAA and our partners at Space Launch Delta 30,” the firm tweeted.