Firefly Aerospace's Alpha rocket explodes during debut launch

Texas-based Firefly Aerospace's first Alpha rocket exploded mid-air after a successful launch, media reports said.

Firefly's Alpha rocket launched on the company's first-ever orbital test flight on September 2, lifting off from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 9.59 p.m. EDT. After the first 2.5 minutes of the flight, the two-stage, 29-metre Alpha suffered a fatal problem, exploding in a dramatic fireball high in the California sky, reported.

"Alpha experienced an anomaly during first-stage ascent that resulted in the loss of the vehicle," Firefly representatives said in a tweet.

"Prior to entering the countdown, the Range cleared the pad and all surrounding areas to minimise risk to Firefly employees, base staff, and the general public. We are continuing to work with the Range, following all safety protocols," they added.

The Alpha rocket was terminated over the Pacific Ocean after the anomaly, officials in the US Space Force said.

"There were no injuries associated with the anomaly. A team of investigators will convene to determine the cause of the failure," it said in a statement.

Alpha carried about 92 kg payload on the flight, which Firefly called DREAM (short for "Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission"). The plan was to carry this gear to an orbit 300 km above Earth, according to The Everyday Astronaut, which streamed the launch live.

DREAM's payloads included a collection of memorabilia submitted by schools and other educational institutions, as well as a number of tiny satellites, the report said.

The mission aimed "to capture humanity's dreams of the future of space and to inspire people around the globe to dream big and reach for the stars", Firefly representatives had shared on Twitter, before the flight.

In February this year, the company was awarded approximately $93.3 million by NASA to deliver a suite of 10 science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon in 2023.

The delivery is planned for Mare Crisium -- a low-lying basin on the Moon's near side.

Firefly Aerospace will be responsible for end-to-end delivery services, including payload integration, launch from Earth, landing on the Moon, and mission operations, NASA said.

The award is part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative -- a key part of the Artemis programme, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 as a stepping stone to the first human mission to Mars.

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