VANDENBERG SPACE FORCE BASE, California (AP) – A privately designed, unmanned rocket built to transport satellites was destroyed in an explosive fireball after suffering an “anomaly” off the coast of California during its first attempt to reach Earth’s orbit.
Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket was “completed” over the Pacific Ocean shortly after its 18:59 Thursday run from Vandenberg Space Force Base, according to a base statement. Video from the San Luis Obispo Tribune showed the explosion.
Firefly said an “anomaly” occurred during the first stage ascent that “resulted in the loss of the vehicle” approximately two minutes, 30 seconds inside the flight. Vandenberg said a team of investigators will try to determine what caused the error.
Austin, Texas-based Firefly develops various launch and spacecraft, including a lunar lander. Its Alpha rocket was designed to target the growing market for launching small satellites into Earth’s orbit.
The two-stage Alpha is 26 meters high and is designed to carry up to 1,200 kilos of payload in a low lane.
Thursday’s rocket carried a payload called DREAM, or the dedicated research and education accelerator mission. It consisted of objects from schools and other institutions, including small satellites and several demonstration spacecraft.
The company wants to be able to launch Alphas twice a month. 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 at the forefront of the small satellite launch sector.
Rocket Lab has put 105 satellites into orbit with several launches from a site in New Zealand and is developing another launch complex in the USA
Virgin Orbit has launched 17 satellites into space with two successful flights with its air-launched LauncherOne rocket released under the wing of a modified Boeing 747.
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