Firefly’s Alpha rocket detonated by Space Force during first launch

Image: Jack Beyer

Small launch company Firefly’s Alpha rocket exploded mid-flight Thursday night, minutes after a clean liftoff during its first attempt to reach space. The rocket was terminated, Space Force officials said, as it began tipping sideways off course just after reaching supersonic speeds. Firefly said it’s working with regulators to investigate the cause of the failure.

Alpha, a two-stage rocket standing ten stories tall, lifted off from the Vandenberg Space Force base in California at 9:59PM ET on Thursday, aiming to send a payload of tiny private satellites to space at no charge to the owners. The launch was risky — it was Firefly’s first ever mission, so a failure wasn’t a big surprise. Two and a half minutes after liftoff, the rocket fell short of reaching its maximum aerodynamic pressure and began swinging to the side, tipping horizontally.

At that point the rocket exploded, a dramatic result of Space Launch Delta 30 stepping in to terminate the launch vehicle to prevent it from becoming a hazard to the public. In a statement, Firefly said it was too early to know what caused the mishap, and that “we will be diligent in our investigation” with the Space Force and the Federal Aviation Administration. “We are happy to report that there were no injuries associated with the anomaly,” it said.

Firefly said it achieved a number of key mission objectives despite the explosion, including a successful first stage ignition, clean liftoff from the pad, and “progression to supersonic speed.” All those points, it said, generated test flight data that will help the company move forward with the rocket’s testing and development.

Under development for roughly a decade, Alpha is the company’s centerpiece rocket designed to launch tiny satellites to space, serving as one of a handful of small launchers across the industry that are in their infancy, like Astra’s “Rocket 3” and Relativity’s Terran 1. Alpha, a bit bigger than its rival rockets, is powered by four of the company’s Reaver engines and designed to send 2,200 pounds of payload to low-Earth orbit.

Firefly aims to sell a dedicated launch on Alpha for $15 million. Once operational, it’ll be able to loft heavier payloads to space than Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, which is well into its operational life, or Virgin Orbit’s air-launched LauncherOne rocket, which just shot its first commercial payload to space in June. All these rockets are tailored to sate growing demand for launch services from the small satellite industry.


i don’t think i will ever be able to take anything the "space force" says or does seriously.
not that i doubt in any way that its members are capable of doing their jobs, but the name is just farcical.

Air Force has just entered the chat

honestly, I think the name is fine. It’s logical. It’s an armed force that operates in space. It’s the guy who started it and the reasons why that make it a joke.

I think it has less to do with who started it and more to do with the fact that we simply read past the meaning of individual words within proper nouns and idioms because we are used to hearing them. But I agree that if we were to name something Air Force today, having never used the term before, we’d find it silly, too.

I would like to think that it is due to a parody series that occurred prior to it ever existing. It’s a self-lampoon.

The US Space Force came before (Dec 2019) the TV show (May 2020). Not that a dumb TV show should lay any claim to such an obvious name anyways.

January 16, 2019 – TV series announced, with a full name.

February 19, 2019 – Space Force directive-4.

One of these things came before the other… and the day the show could finally be watched isn’t important.

It’s a self-lampoon.

Not sure about that.. Calling the Navy the ‘Water Force’ just because the flying branch is the Air Force would sound similarly silly imo.

I don’t know that I can explain why, but it just does, regardless of who does it.

I don’t know, we could call the Navy "Sea Force" and it doesn’t sound so bad. We could even call the Army "Land Force" and it would sound OK to me. So we’d have Air Force, Land Force, Sea Force, and Space Force. All we’d need next is Cyber Force.

these all sound like Power Rangers season titles tbh

"Five powers combined, I am Captain Planet America."

To me, that sounds hilarious. You should write a sitcom.

Last I checked the only people operating in space were highly trained astronauts.

Actually, it mainly got off the ground because the national space council, along with certain key individuals within the space devision of the air force, suggested it – believing that the space domain was increasing in importance and therefore needed an increased focus. Did Trump also happen to think that a "Space Force" sounded cool? Yes. But that’s not why is was created. The internet just ran with that narrative because it made for an admittedly funny story.

I agree, pop culture has poisoned terms like autopilot and space marine to the degree that they can’t be used when we have things that would fall under those definitions, in a serious sort of way.

We already have Air Force, and bending it into Space Force oozes a lack of creativity and branding sense.

Yes because branding is what a military needs…

Branding is absolutely something every military needs.

My Nations military (The Netherlands) has great branding, you should look at the recruitment ads they’re really cool. But they are notoriously underfunded. Just two years ago I read an article about how they had to cancel some training exercises because they were running out of ammunition. And all the gear they’re using is hopelessly outdated. Branding has its place. but it isn’t everything.

Meanwhile the U.S. military recruits based on the promise of free education and health care. Maybe that’s the real reason the U.S. is so opposed to universal health care and free education – nobody would have a reason to join their military!

unless you plan to have a conscript-only army you definitely need a very good marketing strategy.

I don’t know whey they have different divisions anyway. The navy flies planes, the air force flies planes, the army flies planes… Does the army have boats? What about the air force, do they?

Of course. But the equipment owned is a silly demarkation line. There’s the Department of Defense and the Department of the Navy (and the Department of Homeland Security to cover the Coast Guard to be thorough). Each has a different charge, especially noteworthy in times of peace. The Navy, for example, protects sea trade routes as a matter of national security. Them owning planes, helicopters and automobiles doesn’t matter.

Not quite accurate. The Department of Defense consists of the Dept. of the Navy, Dept. of the Army, and the Dept. of the Air Force, as established by the National Security Act of 1947.
The USCG operates under DHS in peacetime, but under DoNavy (and therefore under DoDefense) during wartime.

Then a department of defense (AKA Homeland Security, Coast Guard) and a department of offence?

I think I might feel right at home in the Department of Offense.

It used to be called the Department of War (really!).

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