Sunday September 5, Firefly carried out the first launch of its Alpha rocket. The machine unfortunately did not manage to reach orbit, and ended up exploding after a few antics, but this remains an encouraging first.
Last Thursday, Firefly conducted the very first launch test of its Alpha rocket. Unfortunately, the device never reached orbit, and the rocket ended up tipping over before exploding with its cargo of satellites. On Sunday September 5, the company published technical details of the incident as well as a video of the theft, including the explosion.
We learn that the first phase went perfectly, and that the vectorial thrust of the 4 Reaver engines succeeded in suppressing any tilting or rotation. However, about fifteen seconds after takeoff, one of the 4 engines stopped working. It is clearly distinguished by 0:57 in the video below.
A recalcitrant engine
At first, the vehicle was able to maintain its pace and heading for almost three minutes, but the higher the speed, the harder it was to maintain control without the fourth engine. The fateful moment came as the famous Max Q approached. It is still a critical step. Indeed, it is the point of the ascent where the aerodynamic forces exerted on the machine are maximum. With three engines instead of four, Alpha did not manage to absorb these forces without flinching; a small imbalance ended up increasing to the point of causing the rocket to tip over. Unable to regain control, the engineers ended up trigger the Flight Termination System, which ultimately caused it to explode at 3:12.
The vehicle released and cleared the pad correctly. The various connections and moving mechanisms connected to the rocket all worked. The vehicle controlled itself perfectly off the pad, with thrust vectoring eliminating all tipping or rotation, and the vehicle increased 3/
— Firefly Aerospace (@Firefly_Space) September 5, 2021
Firefly specifies, however, that it was not a technical failure of the second engine; this one worked normally and nothing was damaged. The company said in one of its tweets that it had opened an investigation. With the help of the American administration, it will attempt to determine the causes of this sudden and unexpected shutdown. She also promises to publish her results as soon as she comes to solid conclusions.
Remember, however, that this was the very first attempt to fly Alpha. It is therefore a good performance on the part of Firefly, which is also delighted with the amount of data obtained. Despite its failure, this maiden flight will “greatly improve the likelihood of Alpha reaching orbit on his second flight”, We can read in a tweet, without specifying when this theft will take place.