Astra rocket carrying two small hurricane-tracking satellites for NASA failed to reach after a major malfunction shortly after liftoff.
June 12, 2022 The Astra Space, Inc.(NASDAQ; $ASTR) rocket, Rocket 3.3 called Launch Vehicle 0010 (LV0010), suffered a second-stage failure after lifting off from a pad LC-46 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Sunday (June 12) at 1:43 p.m. EDT (1743 UTC). Two NASA CubeSats, the first of a six-satellite fleet to track hurricanes as part of a $30 million mission, were lost in mission failure.
The Stage-2 failure were noted at T+07 minutes and 21 seconds into the flight, the Aether engine bursts a large plume (assuming its due to the sudden drop in pressure) and tumbled and suffers from attitude loss and began to spin, eventually falling short of orbit by 1000m/s, velocity at that point was 6531 m/s, or 14,700 mph; altitude was 531 km, or 330 miles. Astronomers estimated the vehicle was in a -1250 km perigee x 545 km apogee x 30.0 deg orbit at the time of the shutdown. Vehicle and payloads will have crashed in the Atlantic a few minutes later.
While we are disappointed in the loss of the two TROPICS CubeSats, the mission is part of NASA’s Earth venture program, which provides opportunities for lower-cost, higher risk missions. Despite a loss of the first two of six satellites, the TROPICS constellation will still meet its science objectives with the four remaining CubeSats distributed in two orbits. With four satellites, TROPICS will still provide improved time-resolved observations of tropical cyclones compared to traditional observing methods - NASA
Astra's LV0010 mission was carrying the first satellites of NASA's Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS). It was the first of three planned missions this year by Astra, each carrying two NASA TROPICS satellites about the size of a loaf of bread (3U Cubesat), to complete the hurricane-watching constellation. Astra's three-mission TROPICS deal with NASA is worth a total of $7.95 million for the company
By using three pairs of TROPICS satellites, each in a different orbit, NASA hoped to monitor hurricanes and tropical storms every hour. It's unclear if the agency can still do that with just four satellites, or if the two lost in today's launch failure will be replaced. The agency stated; that with emerging launch providers for cost-effective launch capabilities to space, these types of missions are important to expand our scientific knowledge while fostering the U.S. commercial launch industry. As a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licensed mission, the FAA and Astra will lead the investigation to understand what happened during the TROPICS-1 launch. NASA will lend any expertise needed but would expect to pause the launch effort with Astra while an investigation is being conducted to ensure we move forward when ready
Today's failed launch is the second mishap this year for Astra. In February, the Alameda-based company failed to launch four NASA cubesats as part of the ELaNa 41 mission, a flight that was also staged from its Florida launch pad and marked Astra's first attempt to launch payloads for a customer. An issue with the rocket's payload fairing was to blame, with Astra implementing a fix to avoid a recurrence.
Astra successfully reached orbit with customer payloads a month later when its LV0009 rocket lifted off from a pad at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska's Kodiak Island, where the company had launched four previous test flights. The company's first successful orbital launch occurred on one of those test flights in November 2021. with 2 successful launch out of 7 missions. The company is still struggling with shaky starts