Astra’s first rocket launch after becoming public wasn’t quite as successful as the firm had intended. The rocket hovered sideways before attempting to reach space after an engine failed to burn a second into the flight. After a component of the rocket seemed to break off, the flight safety crew purposefully halted the engines 2 minutes and 28 seconds into the flight.
The flight was called off exactly around “max q,” the point at which a rocket’s mechanical stresses are at their peak. Around that moment, a camera mounted on Launch Vehicle 0006 appeared to show a piece of the booster breaking off.
It had risen to a height of 31 miles before falling to Earth.
The two-stage Launch Vehicle 0006 (or LV0006) was initially slated to launch on Friday, August 27 from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska. The launch was postponed till August 28 due to an abort by the rocket’s guidance system. According to Space, the original abort was caused by a problem with the engine arrangement.
Despite the fact that the second launch attempt failed to reach orbit, Astra CEO Chris Kemp was upbeat in an interview. “It was obviously not successful at putting anything in orbit, but it was a flight where we learned a tremendous amount.”
He said the endeavor generated a “tremendous amount of data” that would be analyzed, and that Astra hoped to apply what it had learnt to the LV0007, which is presently in production.
Kemp acknowledged the engine’s failure to fire on Twitter, but said he was “incredibly proud” of the Astra team’s performance during the launch.
With its range of mass-produced, low-cost, ever-evolving rockets, Astra, which was founded in 2016, hopes to capture a large share of the burgeoning small-satellite launch industry. The company’s launch system is made to be mobile-friendly and responsive. Its rockets, for example, are transported in conventional shipping containers to the launch site.
Prior to today, Astra had launched two orbital test flights, neither of which delivered a payload. The company’s Rocket 3.1 encountered a guidance failure shortly after launch in September 2020, and crashed back to Earth. Rocket 3.2 successfully launched into space in December of that year, but ran out of fuel shortly before reaching orbital velocity.
If all goes according to plan, Astra will visit the launch pad several times in the next months and years. For example, today’s launch was the first of two planned by the United States Space Force; the second was set to launch later this year, though that date may change.
Astra also has a lot of additional contracts: Kemp said last month that the business has inked deals for more than 50 launches totaling more than $150 million in revenue.
And, in the long run, the company intends to increase its launch frequency to previously unheard-of levels, potentially revolutionizing humanity’s access to space.
Astra, which went public earlier this summer, is also working on its own satellite bus. These spacecraft will be powered by Apollo Fusion’s electric-propulsion engines, which Astra purchased earlier this year.
The complete launch can be viewed here.