Firefly Aerospace’s first rocket launch ended in a fiery explosion over Central Coast skies on Thursday evening, as its Alpha vehicle erupted in a burst of flames and smoke before entering orbit.
Alpha launched just before 7 p.m. and made it up into the sky before an “anomaly” occurred during the first stage ascent, according to Firefly. That anomaly “resulted in the loss of the vehicle.”
As the unmanned rocket raced toward space, it suddenly exploded in a large puff of smoke and fire as seen in the skies from San Luis Obispo. A piece of the rocket appeared to curl back toward Earth, leaving a trail of smoke in its wake.
Noozhawk.com reported that launch sent a long rumble across the Lompoc and Santa Maria valleys that was followed by the apparent sound of the explosion and another rumble.
Firefly will now begin an anomaly investigation and determine what went wrong.
The company says the range and surrounding areas were cleared prior to entering countdown “to minimize risk to Firefly employees, base staff and the general public.”
“We are continuing to work with the Range, following all safety protocols,” the company tweeted soon after the launch.
The rocket was aiming for a low Earth orbit, to deploy multiple satellites for several entities.
It was also carrying a range of non-technical payloads such as photos, DNA samples and a children’s book as part of the company’s Dedicated Research & Education Accelerator Mission, which aims to inspire young people to learn more about the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, especially space.
All of the payloads were lost in the explosion.
The Firefly launch was one of the first from the base to be conducted by a smaller company. Most launches out of Vandenberg in the modern era have involved either Space X or United Launch Alliance.
The Alpha rocket had stood on its pad at Vandenberg since earlier this year, awaiting the launch.
On Aug. 18, Firefly successfully conducted a static fire test of the launch vehicle, firing its first stage engines for 15 seconds, according to a company tweet.
Vandenberg asks public to avoid debris
In the wake of the failed launch, Vandenberg issued a warning to the public to look out for debris from the explosion, which occurred over the Pacific Ocean.
In a statement Thursday night, the base cautioned people to stay far away from any found debris, saying it “should be considered unsafe.”
The base says all recreational facilities, including beaches on the base, that were closed for the launch will remain closed until further notice due to the ongoing investigation into what happened.
If you see or suspect debris in your area, you are advised to stay at least 50 feet away and report any findings to the Firefly Aerospace Inc. hotline at 805-605-2734.
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