back to article Alpha adds to tally of exploding rockets, takes out space sail prototype with it

The sudden and explosive end of Firefly Aerospace's first test flight of its Alpha rocket rounded out a hat-trick of woe for rocket fans this week. The Alpha, which Firefly has pitched as being able to loft 1,000kg to low earth orbit (LEO), finally left its pad at California's Vandenberg Space Force Base at 01:59 UTC on 3 …

  1. redpawn Silver badge
    Mushroom

    At low altitude

    an explosion returns the satellite to earth in a much shorter time than the sail. Explosion 1, Sail 0.

  2. spold Silver badge

    Some things were never meant to firefly

    Firefly Fireworks sounds so much better than Firefly Aerospace anyway.

  3. HildyJ Silver badge
    Pint

    It is rocket science

    And rocket science is hard. To succeed you need explosions, otherwise you're not learning where the leading (or bleeding) edge is and you can't learn where the flaws are in your design.

    I wish them well in their next attempt. Here's a pint to drown your sorrows before you get back to work.

    1. Ken G Bronze badge

      Re: It is rocket science

      And don't ride in anything with a Capissen 38 engine, they fall right out of the sky.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: It is rocket science

      Rocket science isn't so hard, it's rocket engineering that's tricky.

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: It is rocket science

        Tricky it may be, but there's well over half a century of experience, both successes and failures, to build upon. If you try something new like SpaceX landing and reusing their first stages you can expect some irreversible rapid disassembly before you get things right, but launching a rocket like this should be old hat by now.

  4. Imhotep Silver badge

    Aw, That's Nuttin

    "some of its objectives: lighting the engines, leaving the pad, and "progression to supersonic speed."

    I did that with a cherry bomb in a coke can. We might have even achieved orbit, since we never saw the can come back down.

    1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: Aw, That's Nuttin

      Manhole cover and a nuke.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Aw, That's Nuttin

        Think I've achieved it with a few drain pipes and banger instigated dust explosion and a tennis ball which didnt make it very far down range in one piece.

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Flame

    California Polytechnic State University

    Are you sure that's not California Pyrotechnic State University?

  6. Ken G Bronze badge
    Facepalm

    Titanic

    achieved some of it's objectives, leaving Southampton, reaching cruising speed, use of radio...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Titanic

      Mostly successful flight.

  7. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Looked good right up to the boom

    The flight was nice and stable, but it was noted that it wasn't accelerating as fast as predicted. I'm not sure if that lead to the problem they had which required the Range Safety Package (a bomb) to be activated.

    There is always that question of whether the rocket was overbuilt if nothing bad happens on the first flight. Were there places they could have shaved some weight? Now the question is where they need to reinforce if it was a structural failure and why there was less performance from the motors than expected. Still, much more stable than any of the Starship flights.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Looked good right up to the boom

      Scott Manley has a video analysing the flight. He thinks one of the engines went kaput early on in the flight. That probably explains the slow asscent. The wobblyness and RUD, Scott thinks is due to areodynamic forces on the rocket as it goes supersonic. Due to the way the gimbaling is design on the Firefly, it's much harder for it to compensate for the imbalance in thrust. So those supersonic forces just made a difficult situation even harder.

      1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

        Re: Looked good right up to the boom

        Scott's got an update. It seems his hunch was correct.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Looked good right up to the boom

      "Now the question is where they need to reinforce"

      More struts?

  8. Mark 85 Silver badge

    First Launch? And with cargo?

    Seems strange to load up on cargo when they haven't actually had a successful launch. The article doesn't mention any test flights and neither does their site or quick Google. Seems test launches are done for a reason and without cargo.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: First Launch? And with cargo?

      If you're putting cargo on the very first flight of anything (airplane, rocket) you should be expecting that your cargo is unlikely to reach its destination in fully working order.

      For Alpha, they need some kind of payload to properly test the rocket. They could either just put a big rock in there, or they could say "Hey, anyone want to risk our new rocket? The flight's free but there's no guarantee of success" For a Uni, a free flight is very appealing. The Uni's main aim could have been to teach designing and building somethig for space flight. What better way is there to learn than by doing? (And Alpha get some experience working with a payload customer too)

      It's a shame to see your work get destroyed - but what a way for it to get destroyed. Way better than some clumsey oaf knocking it off the bench!

      1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: First Launch? And with cargo?

        "They could either just put a big rock in there"

        And when the flight is aborted? Big rocks dropping from high altitudes. No thanks.

        The space sail was more appropriate.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: First Launch? And with cargo?

          Pumice could be fun!

        2. cray74

          Re: First Launch? And with cargo?

          And when the flight is aborted? Big rocks dropping from high altitudes. No thanks.

          Back in the days of yore (late 80s, as I recall), a Titan launch planned for Canaveral Air Force Station was delayed because a Floridian congresscritter had discovered that the Titan was launching with sand for ballast. Beach sand, on a $250 million tech rocket delivering a high-tech spy satellite to space!

          So the USAF pulled the Titan back into its hangar, quickly slapped together some ballast weights out of aluminum plate, and launched the rocket several million dollars later.

          Had the Titan blown up during launch (as they liked to do), that would've been tons of aluminum plate dropping around Cocoa Beach rather than a cloud of sand.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: First Launch? And with cargo?

        Perhaps they thought that the failure of the rocket could be used to kick start the solar sail if it happened high enough?

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: First Launch? And with cargo?

        A payload designed to de-orbit satellites promptly is the ideal payload. After all, if it doesn't reach orbit there's no need to de-orbit it.

      4. Timbo Bronze badge

        Re: First Launch? And with cargo?

        "It's a shame to see your work get destroyed....."

        Or in the case of NOAA-N Prime (in 2003):

        What a way for something to NEARLY be destroyed and BEFORE it even got to the launch pad...all down to someone removing some bolts and not documenting it and then someone else not checking the bolts were in place beforehand:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NOAA-19#Damage_during_manufacture

        That cost $135m to put right !!

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: First Launch? And with cargo?

      "Seems strange to load up on cargo when they haven't actually had a successful launch."

      They usually put a dummy load in to simulate the mass of what a normal production flight will do. In this case some of that dummy load was a (probably free) ride for a university experiment. I didn't see any mention of a customer payload that the uni experiment was attached to, so I'm assuming from that the uni experiment was the entire payload.

  9. Pirate Dave Silver badge
    Pirate

    Close

    Eh, that falling debris at the end sure seemed to land uncomfortably close to the camera and other onlookers, considering the rocket had burned for a good two minutes. Seems like it should have been further downrange than that.

    1. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: Close

      The camera had a huge zoom on it so it could have been 10 miles away, still close depending on your definition of close.

      1. Pirate Dave Silver badge

        Re: Close

        The last 30 seconds, those kids run towards a piece of debris that landed right across that field and pick it up. (which I thought was Federally illegal, but whatevs) That's pretty close?

        1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

          Re: Close

          But were they close to the launch site or 10 miles from it?

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Close

          The applause for the admittedly spectacular explosion seemed a bit cold hearted though. I was also a little concerned that they ran out excitedly to grab the falling debris, seemingly without thinking that there might be lots of other debris still falling.

          1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

            Re: Close

            Or pieces of a hypergolic fuel tank.

    2. Timbo Bronze badge

      Re: Close

      It seemed not to be going as fast upwards as it should have done (according to reports) and it also didn't seem to tilt over, in order to get to orbit (which would have sent it over water, away from the spectators)

      And in clear air, when it exploded with some mighty force, those bits of rocket and payload would have been sent off quickly in all directions, and so some would have made landfall, as shown in the video. :-(

      I like the comment someone made (@4:22): "They're gonna not let us be here for the next launch now"....whilst watching a large piece of rocket drop in front of them.

    3. Richard Boyce

      Re: Close

      They may have destroyed evidence by interfering with debris. They also risked chemical burns.

  10. Filippo Silver badge

    Firefly?

    Lots of fire, not much fly.

    1. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Firefly?

      ...and, as I said over on another article about it, might get cancelled after the first season.

  11. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    achieve some of its objectives

    Comrades, today we congratulate the Chernobyl reactor for achieving it's 5 year plan power output in 10ms

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    FAIL

    Poorly considered naming

    "The first stage is propelled by four Reaver 1 engines"

    I mean ... did they expect Reaver engines to be controllable?

  14. Mister Dubious
    FAIL

    "The Anomaly"

    I guess they called it that because in rocketry these days "The Singularity" is plural?

  15. Stoneshop Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Bloody hell

    That's one bad camera operator.

    Rockets can be expected to go up, although not all of them actually do. Still, you put the cam on a tripod and check that when you tilt the thing it stays pointed at the rocket. So that when the rocket actually goes up you actually, you know, just have to tilt the cam instead of having to hunt left and right to keep it in view. Any decent tripod can be set so that tilting is smooth while resisting panning.

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