Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket
A view from Del Mar of the contrail left from the first stage of the Firefly Aerospace Alpha rocket on Thursday night. Photo by Chris Jennewein

An Alpha rocket launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base by the startup company Firefly Aerospace lit up the sky over coastal San Diego County just after sunset on Thursday.

The 97-foot-long rocket’s first stage left a corkscrew-shaped contrail, while the second stage could clearly be seen heading south high in the western sky.

The rocket was reportedly carrying a secret payload in a $15 million, short-timeline mission for the Defense Department code-named VICTUS NOX.

According to a press release in August, Firefly Aerospace would be given a 60-hour window to launch the rocket in a test of responsive space capability for national defense.

“The U.S.’s ability to rapidly respond to on-orbit needs is critical to our national defense, particularly in today’s evolving space environment,” said Space Force Lt. Col. MacKenzie Birchenough in the release.

Austin, TX-based Firefly Aerospace develops medium-lift vehicles for “responsive, reliable, and affordable space access for government and commercial customers.”

The Alpha series rockets can put a one-ton payload into low Earth orbit. Thursday’s launch was the third to date.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.