The debut of a new small rocket dubbed Alpha ended abruptly and dramatically after blasting off from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Thursday.
The 95-foot-tall booster, built by Firefly Aerospace, lifted off at about 7 p.m. Thursday from Space Launch Complex-2.
The liftoff delivered a long rumble heard around the Lompoc and Santa Maria valleys, followed by an apparent explosion and another rumble.
“Alpha experienced an anomaly during first stage ascent that resulted in the loss of the vehicle,” the company stated on its Twitter page. “As we gather more information, additional details will be provided.”
A small crowd watching from Vandenberg Village reacted with dismay and disappointment.
Vandenberg officials confirmed that crews sent self-destruct commands to terminate the rocket’s flight two minutes after liftoff while Alpha traveled over the Pacific Ocean.
Safety personnel at Vandenberg send a destruct command when a rocket or missile veers off the planned flight path or otherwise appears to be acting abnormally after liftoff.
“There were no injuries associated with the anomaly,” Vandenberg officials said. “A team of investigators will convene to determine the cause of the failure.”
As it normally does before a liftoff, the military had cleared the area around the launch pad and ordered mariners to remain away from a wider-than-normal swath of the ocean off Vandenberg’s coast in case of a launch failure.
“Prior to entering the countdown, the (Western) Range cleared the pad and all surrounding areas to minimize risk to Firefly employees, base staff and the general public. We are continuing to work with the Range, following all safety protocols,” Firefly officials said on Twitter.
Liftoff occurred an hour after the launch window opened, with the first countdown ending in an aborted departure with seconds left. After assessing the reason for the abort, the team recycled the countdown to aim for liftoff at 7 p.m.
The company, with the motto “Making space for everyone,” has worked to create a new rocket to carry some of the smallest satellites to space for $15 million.
Alpha carried an assortment of payloads for what the firm called the Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission, or DREAM, mission.
A global competition to host academic and educational payloads ended with the selection of the rideshare participants on the inaugural flight of the Firefly Alpha launch vehicle. Alpha’s 26 DREAM payloads represented seven countries.
The payloads would not have survived the launch failure.
Firefly, based in Texas, aims to create “an economical, reliable and convenient access to space,” with the design, manufacture and operation of launch vehicles incorporating a blend off New Space practices and Heritage Space principles.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.