Firefly Aerospace’s Alpha rocket launches into space
On September 3, 2021, at 5:00 am Kyiv time, the aerospace company of Ukrainian entrepreneur Max Polyakov, Firefly Aerospace, conducted the first Alpha rocket launch. The rocket successfully launched from the launch pad; however, shortly after lift-off, the mission was aborted due to a flight anomaly.
The launch window was open on September 3 from 4:00 to 8:00 am Kyiv time. Alpha took off over the Pacific Coast at 4:59 am Kyiv time, launching from the US Space Forces Vandenberg, California. The flight was broadcast live.
At 4:14 am Kyiv time, the launch was confirmed, the countdown began, and at 4:57 am, the go for launch command was given. At 4:59, the rocket successfully launched. A few minutes after launch, the mission was aborted due to an issue that is still unknown. The company promises to provide more details about the incident.
Later, photos of the anomaly that occurred during the flight of the rocket appeared:
Some facts about the rocket:
- The company has been working on the Alpha rocket since 2014; it belongs to the small-lift launch vehicles.
- After Max Polyakov relaunched Firefly Aerospace in 2017, they made technical changes to its design, increasing its payload capacity from 400 to 1,000 kg. (For delivery to the Low Earth Orbit, at 200 km altitude; it can also deliver up to 630 kg to the Sun-Synchronous Orbit, at 500 km altitude).
- Alpha is one of the largest small-lift rockets. It is 29 m high (like a 9-floor building), 1.8 m in diameter, its payload fairing is 2 m in diameter.
- It is made of composite materials and has 4x Reaver-1 engines (Stage 1) and 1x Lightning 1 engine (Stage 2).
- Stage 2 has NASA’s experimental Spinnaker-3 drag sail to speed up the stage’s descent from orbit.
About the launch
The Alpha launch was the first-ever launch of a private aerospace company with Ukrainian roots. On September 3, 2021, Alpha had to bring to the orbit academic and educational projects of the winners of the specialized DREAM program to promote the exact sciences.
- The non-technical part were children’s pictures and messages from child hospitals and photos of previous space flights.
- The technical part can vary from 3U up to 27U satellites from world-famous universities and non-profit organizations.
On September 14, Firefly’s launch license will expire. And there is already a new one covering the period from September 15, 2021, to March 15, 2022. Such rockets could be used not only to deliver payloads to orbit but also the Moon as soon as it is needed. In February 2021, NASA announced its partnership with Firefly Aerospace and promised to award the company $93.3 million to deliver scientific and technological equipment to the Moon in 2023.
Update as of August 5, 2021: According to the company, the rocket had to be detonated because one of the engines failed. The company continues to investigate the reasons for this.