Small launch company Firefly wanted to create history with its first-ever launch attempt, but things didn’t go as planned. The space startup launched its first unmanned rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base north of Los Angeles. The lift-off was smooth and the 100 feet tall rocket soared in the sky above the Pacific Ocean. Everything went as planned and the team of researchers who worked to design the rocket looked stratified. To their joy, Alpha rocket approached supersonic speeds. But just two-and-half minutes into the journey, the rocket began to cartwheel. This prompted US Space Force officials to direct the company to destroy the rocket, built to carry satellites, mid-air. Called an emergency abort, the decision was taken promptly before it could tumble uncontrolled back towards earth. This could have resulted in the loss of life and property. The rocket was destroyed to make sure that no one gets harmed. This has dashed the hopes of Firefly which has been preparing for a long to put a rocket into Earth’s orbit. The company said that the rocket suffered an ‘anomaly’ shortly after liftoff at 6:59 pm. The Texas-based startup said that it is working with regulators to investigate what went wrong during the journey and led to the failure. Alpha was carrying a payload called DREAM that consisted of several demonstration spacecraft and small satellites along with items from schools and other institutions.
Firefly said it wants to be sure about what went wrong before starting working on its next orbital flight attempt. The company emphasized that it would be too early to comment on what exactly went wrong during the flight. “It is for sure that we did not meet all of our mission objects. But it is certain that we managed to achieve a number of them. Among them is successful first-stage ignition. Also, the liftoff from the launch pad was as smooth as expected. Then we had a planned progression to supersonic speed. The most important is that we now have a substantial amount of flight data. We can study them and it will definitely help us prepare in a better way for the next test flight,” the company said in a statement. Firefly is one of the rocket companies that is working hard on making space a place of competitive business. But the rate of success has often been a deciding factor about whether or not a startup can stay financially afloat. In this case, the road ahead is going to be extremely crucial as Firefly has already been through bankruptcy once. The startup, which was founded in 2014, emerged from Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2017. The company got new financial backing in 2017 and raise millions from private investors. The company has a valuation of USD 1 billion. On the other hand, there are companies that have been able to successfully place satellites in Earth’s orbit. This makes the competition for Firefly really tough.
It must be noted that rocket Alpha was under development for almost a decade. The rocket was being designed to launch tiny satellites into orbit. The rocket was powered by the Reaver engines of the company. It was being designed to carry a payload of around 2,200 pounds. The company is aiming to serve a small group of companies that are planning to launch small satellites. Firefly has plans to charge around USD 15 million for a dedicated launch. The only solace for the company is that it is not the only company that has faced failure during its test flight. Recently, California-based startup Astra had a failed attempt to put a 43-foot-tall satellite into orbit. The satellite exploded over the coast of Alaska after the vehicle veered sideways off its launch pad and then tried to right itself. Then there is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which had to face a series of explosions when its rocket technology was in the early development phase. Had it been a successful flight, Firefly would have become the only third company to send its rocket to orbit. There are not dozens but hundreds of startups that are working on this business model. They all are focused on developing lightweight cheap rockets that would take small satellites to orbits during frequent trips.