Another company involved in the commercial race to space suffered a setback this week.

A privately designed, unmanned rocket built to carry satellites was destroyed in an explosive fireball after suffering an "anomaly" off the California coast.

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It was the first attempt by Firefly Aerospace's Alpha rocket at reaching Earth's orbit.

The rocket was "terminated" over the Pacific Ocean shortly after its 6:59 p.m. Thursday liftoff from Vandenberg Space Force Base, according to a base statement. 

A rocket launched by Firefly Aerospace, the latest entrant in the New Space sector, is seen lifting off from the central California coast on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. (Associated Press)

A team of investigators will try to determine what caused the failure.

The rocket was carrying a payload called DREAM (Dedicated Research and Education Accelerator Mission), consisting of items from schools and other institutions, including small satellites and several demonstration spacecraft.

"While we did not meet all of our mission objectives, we did achieve a number of them: successful first stage ignition, liftoff of the pad, progression to supersonic speed, and we obtained a substantial amount of flight data," Firefly said in a statement. 

Austin, Texas-based Firefly is developing various launch and space vehicles, including a lunar lander. Its Alpha rocket was designed to target the growing market for launching small satellites into Earth orbit.

Firefly is competing with two Long Beach, California-based companies that are ahead in the small satellite launch sector.

Rocket Lab has put 105 satellites into orbit with multiple launches from a site in New Zealand and is developing another launch complex in the U.S.

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Virgin Orbit has put 17 satellites into space with two successful flights of its air-launched LauncherOne rocket, which is released from beneath the wing of a modified Boeing 747.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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