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Firefly Aerospace rocket engine catches fire during testing

The rocket engine erupted in flames during a “hot-fire” test of Firefly’s Alpha rocket, a booster designed for small satellite launches, on the proving grounds in Briggs, Texas. In the video, the fire is clearly visible on the left side, emerging from the engine at the moment of launch.

At 6:23 pm local time, the stage’s engines were fired, and a fire broke out in the engine bay at the base of the rocket’s stage,” Firefly representatives wrote in a statement.

“The 5-second test was immediately aborted and the test facility’s fire suppression system extinguished the fire.”

No Firefly employee or members of the public were injured by the fire, according to the company’s statement. Both the Alpha rocket stage and the test stand also remain intact. The company also published photos of the aftermath of the unfortunate event.

“Firefly is coordinating closely with local authorities and emergency response personnel as it investigates the anomaly and refines its contingency procedures,” Firefly representatives said.

Firefly is developing the Alpha rocket powered by Reaver engines to launch payloads, including satellites, of up to 1,000 kilograms to low Earth orbit. The 29 meters tall Alpha will launch from a Firefly pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The company is also working on the design of the Beta rocket, aiming to deliver up to 4,400 kg to low Earth orbit. Firefly was aiming for a debut launch of the Alpha booster by April, with a second flight to follow in June, however these plans most likely will be postponed due to the ongoing investigation.

“The cause of the anomaly is under investigation. Firefly engineers are reviewing test data from the stage to identify potential causes for the test failure, and Firefly will share results of that investigation once it is complete,” the company has said.

Notes:

Firefly is on track to deliver a US solution for the 1,000 to 4,000 kg payload class to LEO for a starting price of $15M. Firefly is committed to doing its part to restore U.S. leadership in the small to medium launch market, and is establishing international offices and strategic partnerships to effectively serve the global market.

In November 2018, it was announced that NASA selected Firefly Aerospace as one of nine companies able to bid at the Commercial Lunar Payload Services, where the company will be proposing a robotic lunar lander called Firefly Genesis.

In February 2019, the company announced that it would develop manufacturing facilities and a launch site at Cape Canaveral.

On 9 June 2019 it was announced that Firefly Aerospace signed an agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) that owns the intellectual property of the Beresheet lunar lander design. Firefly plans to build a lunar lander based on Beresheet that would be called Genesis. Genesis will be proposed to NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) to deliver payloads to the surface of the Moon. If selected, Firefly Genesis would be launched with a Firefly Beta rocket, or a Falcon 9 rocket in late 2021.