Capitalism in space: Firefly this past weekend confirmed that its September 2nd launch failure was caused when one of the Alpha rocket’s first stage engines shut down almost immediately after liftoff.
On Sunday (Sept. 5), the company announced the proximate cause of the failure: One of Alpha’s four first-stage Reaver engines shut down unexpectedly about 15 seconds after liftoff. “The vehicle continued to climb and maintain control for a total of about 145 seconds, whereas nominal first-stage burn duration is about 165 seconds. However, due to missing the thrust of 1 of 4 engines, the climb rate was slow, and the vehicle was challenged to maintain control without the thrust vectoring of engine 2,” Alpha representatives wrote in a Twitter thread on Sunday.
“Alpha was able to compensate at subsonic speeds, but as it moved through transonic and into supersonic flight, where control is most challenging, the three-engine thrust vector control was insufficient and the vehicle tumbled out of control. The range terminated the flight using the explosive Flight Termination System (FTS). The rocket did not explode on its own,” they added.
The engine apparently did not fail or explode, it merely closed its main propellant valves so the engine was no longer being fed fuel. Though they obviously they need to find out why this happened, the nature of the failure is actually encouraging. It suggests a relatively easy fix (with a strong emphasis on the word “relatively”).
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