After several scrubbed launch attempts, Astra Space’s first Rocket. 3.3 flight from Florida did not reach orbit after encountering a failure during stage separation.
Liftoff took place at 3 p.m. EST (20:00 UTC) Feb. 10, 2022, from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It was the first flight of Rocket 3.3 from the Sunshine State. The company’s previous flights have taken place from Kodiak Island in Alaska.
The company had hoped to send several CubeSats into space for NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services program. The flight seemed to go according to plan all the way through main engine cutoff, roughly 2 minutes, 50 seconds into the ascent.
What was supposed to happen next was for the payload fairing, which also encapsulates the upper stage, to separate. The upper stage would have then separated before igniting to continue toward orbit.
However, a failure occurred during this sequence. Based on cameras inside the payload fairing, there was a jolt in the fairing halves, but no deployment.
Moments later, the upper stage separated, hitting the top of the inside of the fairings. When its engine ignited, the fairings immediately fell away and the stage began tumbling out of control. The feed from the rocket soon cut away.
There has been no official update by Astra Space as to what when wrong, but the company made a statement via Twitter.
“We experienced an issue during today’s flight that resulted in the payloads not being delivered to orbit,” Astra Space tweeted. “We are deeply sorry to our customers @NASA and the small satellite teams. More information will be provided after we complete a data review.”
Astra’s Rocket 3.3, with a tail number of LV0008, made its way to Cape Canaveral from the company’s headquarters in Alameda, California, and is classified as a small satellite launcher. It competes with similar launch vehicles, such as Firefire Aerospace’s Alpha, Rocket Lab’s Electron and Virgin Orbit’s Launcher One.
The mission’s first attempt to launch on Feb. 5 was called off near the end of its three-hour-long launch window because of an issue with Space Launch Delta 45’s radar system. Astra and Space Launch Delta 45 scheduled on another attempt for Feb. 7, which was ultimately scrubbed because a telemetry issue.
Rocket 3.3 is 43 feet (13.1 meters) tall and 4.3 feet (1.3 meters) wide. Its first stage is powered by five Delphin engines and the upper stage by a single Aether engine. Both consume rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen as propellants.
The first stage of the rocket burned its five engines for nearly 3 minutes before cutting off. What was supposed to happen next was for the payload fairing to separate, revealing the upper stage and satellites, as well as allow for stage separation.
The upper stage engine was supposed to ignite shortly after stage separation and continue to burn for about 5.5 minutes before reaching an orbit with an inclination of about 41 degrees relative to the equator.
Roughly 10 seconds after reaching orbit, the NASA Venture Class Launch Services payloads were to be deployed. Aboard were four CubeSats for NASA’s ELaNa-41 mission, which stands for Educational Launch of Nanosatellites.
‘The lowest cost-per-launch dedicated orbital launch service’
Astra Space was founded by Chris Kemp and Adam London in October of 2016. The company announced in February 2021 its intention to go public.
On July 1, 2021, Astra completed its first day as a public company using the “ASTR” symbol on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
The first successful launch into orbit for Astra came in November of 2021 from its Alaska launch site. It was the company’s first undisputed success after the previous three Rocket 3 launches failed to reach orbit.
This included a dramatic and unplanned sideways ascent off the pad in August 2021 after a single engine failure on the first stage occurred about one second after liftoff.
This caused the vehicle to drift sideways away from the launch mount for several seconds before burning enough propellant to lighten the vehicle, allowing it to finally ascend.
The rocket ascended for about 2.5 minutes before range safety ordered the engines to be shut down, terminating the flight.
For the November launch, it was Astra’s first payload delivered into orbit and made it the fastest launch company to reach that milestone — just five years after it was founded.
In advance of the Feb. 5 launch, Astra announced it was the first company to receive a Part 450 license from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The Part 450 license streamlines and consolidates the licensing process by granting a single launch and reentry license for all types of commercial spaceflight and launch reentry operations.
According to Astra, the company is on a mission to offer the lowest cost-per-launch dedicated orbital launch service for smaller payloads. That cost is about $2.5 million, according to CNBC in 2020.
“Launching out of the Cape allows us to serve customers with mid-inclination delivery needs, broadening our market.” said Astra’s chief business officer, Martin Attiq.
Video courtesy of NASASpaceflight LLC and Astra Space Inc.
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