Firefly Aerospace conducted the first flight test of our Alpha vehicle on Sept 2, 2021. Although the vehicle didn’t make orbit, the day marked a major advancement for the team. Firefly demonstrated that they “arrived” as a company capable of building and launching rockets.
Firefly acquired a wealth of flight data that will greatly enhance the likelihood of Alpha achieving orbit during its second flight. In short, it was a very successful first flight.
Here are a few specific notes about the flight:
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 in speed at the exact rate that was predicted in modeling.
About 15 seconds into the flight, engine 2 (there are four Reaver engines on the first stage) shut down. 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 the 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. Alpha was able to compensate at subsonic speeds, but as it moved through transonic and into the 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.
Firefly has commenced an anomaly investigation to gain an understanding of why engine 2 shut down early and uncover any other relevant unexpected events during flight. The company will report the root cause of the anomaly at the end of the investigation. In collaboration with the FAA and partners at Space Launch Delta 30, Firefly will return to conduct Alpha Flight 2 as soon as possible.
This video montage shows the entire mission from a variety of camera angles. Enjoy.