Firefly Aerospace Alpha-FLTA002 “To the Black” Launch

Firefly Aerospace is planning to launch its second attempt at an orbital flight on 2022-09-11 in a launch window extending from 22:00 UTC until 02:00 UTC on the 12th. The launch will be from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, aiming for a 300 km circular orbit at 137° inclination. The payload is a number of cubesats and picosats with a total mass around 35 kg, many of them back-up copies of satellites lost in Firefly’s first orbital launch attempt on 2021-09-04 when failure of one of the first stage’s four Reaver engines caused the rocket to go all Kerbal around 145 seconds after launch. Here is a replay of the first launch attempt. You can clearly see the engine out in the ascent tracking shot. The Reaver engines make a fine “honk” at engine ignition.

Here is a pre-flight preview from Everyday Astronaut.

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After counting down to one minute before launch at the start of the launch window, an abort was called due to a problem with helium pressurisation and the countdown was recycled for a launch at the end of the launch window. This was then moved forward, but around 00:10 UTC on 2022-09-12 the launch attempt was scrubbed for the day. There has not yet been an announcement of the reason for the scrub nor the date and time of the next launch attempt.

Update: preliminary information is that the next launch attempt will be to-morrow at the same time: 2022-09-12 with the window opening at 22:00 UTC.

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That FLTA001 video is something else.

It surprises me to see the vehicle survive a couple of somersaults before the kaboom. I’d have expected the vehicle to be more fragile when subjected to the lateral loads induced by sideways travel at rocket-ey speeds.

Separately, am I the only one who wonders how the umbilicals manage not to get fried by the rocket plume on launch? Several camera angles show those hoses/cables(/what’s the right noun?) detach upon launch and then just hang there limply while the exhaust plume climbs past them. I’d have expected the heat to obliterate any non-metallic materials in the vicinity. Is the rocket exhaust not that hot? Are the umbilicals made of some kind of super heat resistant materials?


The second launch opportunity on 2022-09-12 was scrubbed one hour before the opening of the launch window due to weather. The weather forecast for the next few days plus conflicts with other launches planned from Vandenberg will probably require a substantial stand down before the next attempt and no date for it has been set at this time.

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The vehicle did not even break up on its own—it was destroyed by the range safety officer after departing from its trajectory envelope. The rocket body is entirely carbon fibre composite, which is famously strong, and I suspect its small size contributes to its ruggedness since aerodynamic loads will be less than on a larger vehicle.

Are the umbilicals made of some kind of super heat resistant materials?

I don’t know. They may simply consider the umbilical cable, hoses, and connectors expendable, as they probably cost a lot less than the rocket which is, in this case, completely expendable. Also, unless the exhaust plume of the rocket directly impinges on something, a liquid rocket probably doesn’t radiate a huge amount of heat sideways. Remember that the rocket nozzle is designed to expand the pressure in the nozzle throat out to equal the ambient atmospheric pressure in order to get the best performance, and that expansion cools the exhaust just like any expanding gas. Tail service masts which are struck directly by the rocket exhaust are normally protected by shields into which they retract and are covered at liftoff (at least that’s how NASA did it with the Shuttle and is doing it with SLS), but side umbilicals usually aren’t (however NASA uses swing arms for their umbilicals, which retract much further from the rocket than those that just drop down to a tower near the pad).