Just 3 days after their first launch, Firefly Aerospace provides some insight into what occurred during the first stage boost phase. Along with the statement was a video showcasing some different angles of Firefly’s first Alpha launch and tracking footage.
Liftoff of the Firefly Alpha FLTA001 mission appeared to be uneventful at first glance. The rocket smoothly rose from the pad and all seemed to be going well. What stream viewers did notice was the lack of a call of the vehicle going supersonic at the time it was expected to. Instead, we heard ‘Vehicle is not yet supersonic’. We now know that this was due to the Alpha vehicle losing an engine about 15 seconds into flight. This is clear in the new video released by Firefly Aerospace today.
In Firefly’s statement about Alpha’s failed launch, they say that the engine did not fail, but the main fuel valves were shut off. This lead to an “uneventful” shutdown of engine 2. While the sun overexposed the tracking video for a short time, we do see this engine shut down (timestamp 0:56).
Alpha loses control
Even with this engine offline, Alpha continued to ascend, albeit at a much slower acceleration. The real trouble came when Alpha went supersonic. Aerodynamics can act weird and vehicles experience strong forces that they need to counteract to successfully make it through this regime. Unfortunately, Alpha lacked this ability given its reduced performance and single-axis gimbal engines.
As Alpha lost control, its payload fairing, and presumably payloads, were ripped off due to the forces.
Once the vehicle lost control, the range sent the command to fire the Flight Termination System (FTS). The FTS system on Alpha uses 2 linear-shaped charges to rupture the fuel tanks. This reduces the chance of large pieces of debris impacting populated areas.
This ended Firefly’s first launch attempt. Teams are currently investigating the cause of the early engine shut down along with reviewing data from other aspects of flight. This investigation is in collaboration with the FAA and Space Launch Delta 30, and they intend on bringing Alpha back to flight as soon as possible.
Even though this launch ended in a fireball, it was still a humongous step for Firefly as a whole and provided them with lots of data that you simply cannot obtain from ground tests. We here at Space Explored can’t wait to see Alpha fly again!
If you would like to read Firefly’s full statement, you can check out their Twitter thread below.
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