Engine Failure Doomed Firefly Alpha’s Maiden Flight

The premature shutdown of one of Firefly Alpha’s four first stage Reaver engines 15 seconds into the flight doomed the maiden launch of the new booster from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Thursday, the company said.

“It was an uneventful shutdown – the engine didn’t fail — the propellant main valves on the engine simply closed and thrust terminated from engine 2. The vehicle continued to climb and maintain control for a total of about 145 seconds, whereas nominal first stage burn duration is about 165 seconds. However, due to missing the thrust of 1 of 4 engines the climb rate was slow, and the vehicle was challenged to maintain control without the thrust vectoring of engine 2,” Firefly said in a commentary accompanying a new video of the launch.

“Alpha was able to compensate at subsonic speeds, but as it moved through transonic and into supersonic flight, where control is most challenging, the three engine thrust vector control was insufficient and the vehicle tumbled out of control. The range terminated the flight using the explosive Flight Termination System (FTS). The rocket did not explode on its own,” the statement said.

“Firefly has commenced a thorough anomaly investigation to gain understanding of why engine 2 shutdown early, and uncover any other relevant unexpected events during flight. We will report root cause of the anomaly at the end of this investigation. In collaboration with the FAA and our partners at Space Launch Delta 30, we will return to conduct the second Alpha flight as soon as possible,” Firefly said.

“Although the vehicle did not make it to orbit, the day marked a major advancement for the Firefly team, as we demonstrated that we “arrived” as a company capable of building and launching rockets. We also acquired a wealth of flight data that will greatly enhance the likelihood of Alpha achieving orbit during its second flight. In short, we had a very successful first flight,” the company added.