Space industry startup Astra again failed to get NASA science payloads into low-Earth orbit after launching a rocket Sunday from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Just over seven minutes after liftoff at 1:43 pm ET from Launch Complex 46, a flash appeared under Rocket 3.3’s upper stage before its single engine prematurely shut down. Two NASA science payloads designed to study storms, called TROPICS, were attached to the second stage, which began to spin without thrust.
Astra quickly confirmed that both small satellites, two of the six NASA hopes to launch for the small weather constellation, were lost.
“We had a nominal first stage flight. The upper stage closed early and we did not deliver the payloads to orbit,” Astra said in a post-launch statement. “We have shared our regrets with NASA and the payload team. More information will be provided after we complete a full review of the data.”
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Sunday’s attempt marked the second Florida launch for the California-based company that focuses on smaller, cheaper options for the space industry. Using off-the-shelf parts, commonly found materials and shipping containers, Astra says it can be launched from anywhere in the world as long as there is a concrete platform and internet connectivity. Its launch base price is just shy of $4 million.
Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said the two TROPICS payloads likely fell to Earth shortly after engine shutdown.
“I estimate that the vehicle was in a… 545 kilometer orbit… at the time of closure,” he said. On twitter. “The vehicle and payloads will have crashed into the Atlantic a few minutes later.”
Astra’s first Cape Canaveral mission in February also failed to deliver four NASA and university payloads when the second stage suffered a similar crash. In both cases, the first stage of Rocket 3.3 seemed to fly without a hitch.
“Earth Venture missions, like this one, are low-cost opportunities to send NASA science into space,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in a statement. “It also allows for more opportunities for researchers to access space.”
“I am confident that in the future we will be successful in using this valuable launch capability to explore the unknown and give others the same opportunity to inspire the world through discovery,” said Zurbuchen.
Meanwhile, at the Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX teams are preparing for the next Space Coast launch scheduled for Friday. A Falcon 9 rocket is expected to boost the company’s batch 49 of Starlink Internet satellites from pad 39A sometime between 10:30 and 11:30 am ET.
For the latest news, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
Contact Emre Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-242-3715. follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @EmreKelly.
SPACE DEBRIS ACCIDENTS:It will be some time before we see the damage.