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Photos show space company Firefly’s first rocket explode during launch above California

Firefly was attempting to reach orbit on the company’s first-ever launch, which would have been a rare feat for private rocket builder.
Image: Firefly Aerospace's first Alpha rocket
Firefly Aerospace's first Alpha rocket suffers a catastrophic anomaly during its first launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., on Sept. 2, 2021.Gene Blevins / Reuters
/ Source: CNBC.com

Space company Firefly launched its inaugural Alpha rocket on a cloudless Thursday evening over the California coast.

The Alpha rocket took off from Vandenberg Space Force Base’s SLC-2 complex, climbing west over the Pacific.

But about 2½ minutes after launch, Firefly’s rocket began flipping end over end and exploded in the air.

The Vandenberg’s Space Launch Delta 30 unit confirmed that it triggered the Alpha rocket’s flight termination system, causing the explosion.

“A team of investigators will convene to determine the cause of the failure,” Space Launch Delta 30 said.

Firefly Aerospace's first Alpha rocket lifts off from Vandenberg Space Force Base, Calif., on Sept. 2, 2021.Gene Blevins / Reuters

The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating. The agency told CNBC in a statement that there were no reported injuries or damage to public property but is aware of reports regarding possible debris falling to the ground.

Firefly’s Alpha rocket is grounded “until the FAA approves the final mishap investigation report or determines the issues related to the mishap do not affect public safety,” the agency added.

Firefly was attempting to reach orbit on the company’s first-ever launch, which would have been a rare feat for private rocket builder. The first orbital launch attempts of other private rocket builders — SpaceX, Rocket LabVirgin Orbit and Astra — suffered a variety of failures, with the former three companies reaching orbit on later attempts.

A Firefly statement emphasized that its Alpha test flight achieved “a number of” mission objectives, including: booster ignition, liftoff and supersonic speed, and collected “a substantial amount of flight data.”