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House firm’s Firefly Alpha missile explodes over California

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Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket accelerates from SLC-2 at Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 2, 2021.

Andrew Evers | CNBC

The space company Firefly launched its first alpha rocket over the California coast on a cloudless Thursday evening.

The Alpha rocket launched from the SLC-2 complex at Vandenberg Space Force Base and climbed west over the Pacific Ocean.

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket takes off from Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 2, 2021.

Andrew Evers | CNBC

However, about two minutes and 30 seconds after the flight, the missile suffered an anomaly and began spinning overhead before stopping and exploding in midair.

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha missile’s flight demolition system detonates after it was launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base on September 2, 2021.

Andrew Evers | CNBC

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha missile explodes in a ball of fire in the skies over California after being launched 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 September 2, 2021.

Firefly aerospace

Vandenberg’s Space Launch Delta 30 unit confirmed in a press release that it triggered the Alpha missile’s flight abort system and caused the explosion.

“A team of investigators will come together to determine the cause of the failure,” Space Launch Delta 30 said.

The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating the launch accident. The agency said in a statement to CNBC that “no injuries or damage to public property have been reported,” but “the FAA is aware of reports of possible debris falling”.

Firefly’s Alpha missile is on the ground “until the FAA approves the final investigation report or determines that the issues related to the breakdown are not affecting public safety,” the agency added.

Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket rests on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, on September 2, 2021.

Andrew Evers | CNBC

Firefly attempted to reach orbit when the company first launched, which would have been a rare feat for private rocket builders. Initial orbital launch attempts by other private rocket makers SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit, and Astra each suffered a multitude of failures, with the first three companies reaching orbit on later attempts.

The company stressed in a statement that its alpha test flight had achieved “a number” of mission objectives including: booster ignition, take-off, supersonic speed and the collection of “a significant amount of flight data.”

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