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On September 5th Firefly Aerospace revealed the reason why its Alpha rocket exploded. One of its first-stage engines became the core problem when it shut down seconds after liftoff, SpaceNews writes in its article.

Firefly uploaded a video of the launch that happened on the 2nd of September from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. On the footage you can see how the rocket tumbled out of control about two and a half minutes after the launch. The Alpha rocket was destroyed by Space Launch Delta 30 using its flight termination system. 

Firefly left a comment in a description under the video. The company stated that one of the four Reaver engines in the rocket’s first stage, designated engine 2, shut down 15 seconds into the flight. “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 rocket continued lifting using its other three working engines, but with reduced thrust. That’s the explanation why rocket flight was so “weak”: according to the company’s press kit, the rocket was supposed to reach Mach 1 67 seconds into the flight, but launch controllers reported that the vehicle reached that mark only after 2 minutes and 20 seconds after the launch. 

Firefly noted that “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.” The vehicle was able to remain stable while going at subsonic speeds, but once it went transonic, “the three engine thrust vector control was insufficient and the vehicle tumbled out of control.”

The video also demonstrated that the vehicle  tumbled for about 10 seconds before the flight termination system destroyed it.  The vehicle’s payload fairing broke off as the gyrations started but the rocket otherwise remained intact, its remaining engines still firing, until the flight termination system activated.

The company emphasized before the flight that the launch was primarily a test flight, carrying only a handful of payloads. “It’s a flight test, so getting data is success,” said Tom Markusic, chief executive of Firefly, in an interview the day before the launch. “The more data we get, the better.”

“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,” the company stated. “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.”

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