Videos Show Firefly Alpha Rocket Explosion Forming Huge Fireball in the Sky

Firefly Aerospace's first rocket launch ended in a mid-air explosion on Thursday night, with dramatic videos of the event posted on social media.

The unmanned Alpha rocket was launched successfully from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 9:59 p.m. EDT.

The mission appeared to be going well until, more than two minutes into the flight, the rocket started to tumble. A few seconds later, it exploded in a huge fireball.

The video below, shot from the town of Orcutt, several miles from the launch site, shows how the rocket expels smoke before suddenly deviating from its flight path. The explosion occurs a couple of seconds later.

The explosion of #fireflyAlpha rocket, as seen from Orcutt, CA. #rocket #launch #vandenbergafb@Firefly_Spacepic.twitter.com/q4nWXs5EEf

— Wendy Thies Sell (@WendyThies) September 3, 2021

Another video of the scene was shot in Nipomo, about 20 miles from the launch site.

#fireflyalpha View from Nipomo, CA, about 20 miles from Vandenberg pic.twitter.com/QDvJnzukk6

— Anne (@annenoe) September 3, 2021

Firefly released a statement in the early hours of Friday, confirming that the rocket had experienced "an anomaly."

The company said it was too early to draw conclusions about what had caused the rocket to blow up, adding that engineers were combing through ground and flight data to work out what had happened.

Firefly added that a number of mission objectives were met despite the explosion, including successful first stage ignition, lift-off and progression to supersonic speed. No one was injured as a result of the explosion, the company said.

Firefly was founded in 2014 and Alpha is its first rocket design to make it to launch.

The Alpha is designed to enter the burgeoning small satellite market and will allow customers to get their equipment into Earth orbit. According to Firefly, each launch comes with a price tag of around $15 million.

Alpha is capable of launching 1,000 kilograms, or 2,200 pounds, into low-Earth orbit. It can also launch up to 1,388 pounds into a higher-altitude orbit.

The 95-foot tall rocket is powered by four rocket boosters at its first stage. Another single rocket powers the second stage. Unfortunately for Firefly, the rocket did not get to display this second stage on Thursday.

It is far from the first time that a commercial rocket company has botched a flight.

Elon Musk's SpaceX almost collapsed in its early days after the company failed not once but three times to get its debut Falcon 1 rocket into space.

It wasn't until September 2008 that SpaceX finally became the first company to privately develop a rocket that successfully reached orbit, on its fourth attempt.

SpaceX still occasionally blows up prototypes. This year the company went through several iterations of its Starship rocket before it finally stuck the landing on its fifth attempt with the SN15 prototype.

Rocket launch
A stock photo shows a digital illustration of a rocket launch. Firefly's Alpha rocket did not manage to reach orbit on its first attempt. Elen11/Getty