US Space Force blew up a Firefly Alpha rocket when its first flight went off course

The maiden voyage of the small satellite launcher came to a fiery end after two minutes.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
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Eric Mack

Firefly Alpha's first flight ended dramatically.

KSBY-TV video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

Space startup Firefly finally launched its Alpha rocket for the first time on Thursday, but the flight didn't last long.

Two minutes into the flight and shortly after achieving supersonic speed, "Alpha experienced an anomaly," according to a statement from the Austin-based company. Video of the flight at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California shows the rocket beginning to tip over and go off course laterally before it explodes.

Later, a statement from the Vandenberg division in charge of space launches disclosed it had "terminated" the rocket.

Most rockets that launch from US soil must be equipped with a flight termination system, which is basically a set of onboard explosives that can be remotely triggered to destroy the rocket in order to protect people and property on the ground in just such a case.

"A team of investigators will convene to determine the cause of the failure," reads a statement from the US Space Force.

Firefly Alpha has been years in the making since the company's original founding in 2014 and re-creation after bankruptcy in 2017. It aims to launch small satellites to orbit, competing with other startups like Rocket Lab and Astra.

"We will utilize the data we obtained from the test flight and apply it to future missions," the company said.

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