Friday, September 3, 2021

Firefly's First Launch Gets "Flight Terminated"

As covered on Monday, Firefly had Everyday Astronaut handling the live stream of the first launch of their Alpha rocket at 6:00 PM CDT last night, 9:00 PM here.  I opened his channel right around then, expecting they'd be delayed and came upon them aborting the countdown with around 20 seconds in the count.  Within about 15 minutes, they announced they'd try again close to 7:00 PM PDT, so I came back about 5 minutes before that.    

Briefly, the count and launch proceeded nominally, but the vehicle seemed to be behind on milestones on an animated time bar along the bottom of the screen.  Max Q was late, going supersonic was late, and both of those said the rocket wasn't performing properly.  It wasn't visible on Everyday Astronaut's stream, but in a video released by early this morning, it was visually obvious that something went very wrong and then the vehicle is destroyed by command from Space Force.  

This video should start right around 2min 24seconds.  A long telephoto lens is tracking the vehicle nicely and the vehicle seems to start losing control, moving other than in a well-controlled, straight trajectory.  At 2:29 the vehicle veers toward the right and something explodes in the engine compartment; you can see debris falling away.  Not 10 seconds later the vehicle explodes.  In a video from another observer on site watching the launch, before the Flight Termination, you can see the payload fairing come apart and start dropping things, too.

Make no mistake about it; the first flight of a new rocket is a risky proposition and losing it like they did isn't surprising at all.  In the rapid development world that the New Space companies are emulating, it's easy to say that Firefly got nearly three minutes of flight data to analyze in order to try to understand how to make their system better.  As Eric Berger, the space correspondent for Ars Technica, put it on Twitter

Scott Manley has a good analysis.  He thinks it lost one of its four engines about 15 seconds after liftoff.  If so, they'll have telemetry on that.  

Space is hard.  Orbit is harder still.  


  1. It took SpaceX 4 tries. And how many launches of all the various versions of Atlas did it take before they were reliable? And I seem to remember the Delta disasters where the rockets blew up when acquired by range tracking ships.

    As you said, getting up is hard, making it all the way is much harder. (nota) Dr. Evil should remember that.

  2. One wonders what Starship will do on its first "orbital" flight???

    Although he has already had several RUDs on the suborbital ones...

    1. I think Musk says he figures about a 30% chance of getting everything right. Which is about what he said for the first hop test with Starship.

      Either way, I think it's obvious from what I wrote that I wasn't criticizing Firefly.

      In my mind, one of those profound sayings that I think of often is the one that goes, "the most important phrase in science isn't 'Eureka!, I've found it!'; the most important phrase is, 'that's funny...' " If they were lucky, Firefly got to record every 'funny' in the telemetry from the rocket and it included every possible 'funny'.

  3. Well, to be fair, the Starship RUD's were due to missing the landings. The flying parts went to plan.

  4. The RUDs started before they even did their first hot fire!!!