Firefly’s Alpha Rocket Put a Satellite in the Wrong Orbit

Firefly’s Alpha rocket encountered a setback during its latest mission, resulting in the loss of its payload. Following a successful liftoff from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, the rocket experienced an anomaly with its second stage, causing the payload to go astray. The mission, named “Fly the Lightning,” aimed to deploy a satellite developed by Lockheed Martin to test an electronically steerable antenna.

Although Alpha achieved orbit and its second stage performed as planned, the stage two burn failed approximately 40 minutes after launch. As a result, the payload was not delivered to its intended target orbit. Firefly acknowledged the anomaly in a statement and pledged to swiftly address the issue in collaboration with their customer and government partners. They expressed their commitment to identifying the root cause of the problem and implementing innovative solutions to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Despite this setback, communication with the spacecraft was established, and mission operations were underway. The satellite carried Lockheed Martin’s new wideband Electronically Steerable Antenna (ESA), integrated on a Terran Orbital Nebula satellite bus. The antenna was designed to be tested for future broadband satellite applications. However, the altered orbit of the satellite may lead to an earlier reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, potentially affecting Lockheed Martin’s antenna testing plans.

This is not the first time Firefly’s Alpha rocket has encountered an issue with payload deployment. During its inaugural mission in October 2022, Alpha delivered three payloads to a lower orbit than originally intended. The 95-foot-tall rocket is designed to offer cost-effective launches for small satellites, accommodating payloads of up to 2,866 pounds (1,300 kilograms) at a price of $15 million per launch.

Friday’s mission marked Alpha’s fourth liftoff as Firefly aims to increase its launch frequency. The company had previously faced a setback when one of Alpha’s first-stage Reaver engines unexpectedly shut down shortly after launch, resulting in an explosion during a test flight in September 2021.

Firefly is actively working to address the anomaly and ensure the resolution of the issue. Updates regarding the situation are yet to be provided by the company. For more spaceflight news and information, follow Gizmodo’s dedicated Spaceflight page on their website.

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