VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) — A rocket launched by Firefly Aerospace, the latest entrant in the New Space sector, exploded minutes after lifting off from the central California coast on Thursday, officials said.
The Alpha rocket was “terminated" over the Pacific Ocean shortly after its 6:59 p.m. liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base, according to a base statement.
Firefly said an “anomaly" occurred during the first-stage ascent that “resulted in the loss of the vehicle" about 2.5 minutes into the flight.
The rocket exploded in a fireball, leaving a smoke trail, according to video from the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Vandenberg said a team of investigators will try to determine what caused the failure of Alpha's first attempted orbital launch.
The launch had pushed back an hour after a first attempt was aborted.
Standing 95 feet (26 meters) high, the two-stage Alpha rocket was designed to launch up to 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of payload into low Earth orbit.
Headquartered in Austin, Texas, Firefly is developing various launch and space vehicles, including a lunar lander. It's Alpha rocket was designed to target the growing market for launching small satellites into Earth orbit.
Thursday’s rocket was carrying a payload called DREAM, or the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission. It consisted of items from schools and other institutions, including small satellites and several demonstration spacecraft.
The company wants to be capable of launching Alphas twice a month, meeting customer schedules. Launches would have a starting price of $15 million, according to Firefly.
Firefly will have to catch up with two Long Beach, California-based companies that are ahead in the small satellite launch sector.
Rocket Lab has put 105 satellites into orbit with multiple launches from a site in New Zealand and is developing another launch complex in the U.S.
Virgin Orbit has put 17 satellites into space with two successful flights of its air-launched LauncherOne rocket, which is released from beneath the wing of a modified Boeing 747.