Small Astra satellite launcher identifies cause of strange side rocket launch

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The small Astra satellite launcher says it has identified the culprit behind his bizarre launch failure in August, causing the company’s rocket to hover just after takeoff before rising briefly into the sky. After implementing a few design changes, Astra says it’s ready to try again, with another launch attempt called LV0007 scheduled for October 27.

This will be Astra’s fifth attempt to reach orbit with one of its rockets, which mainly takes off from Kodiak, Alaska. The company first attempted to send its vehicle into orbit for a DARPA launch challenge in March 2020, but failed to get the rocket off the ground in time to meet the competition deadline. The vehicle then exploded on its launch pad few weeks later. After that, Astra did three more tests in 2020 and 2021, where the rockets did take off. The first launch lasted about 30 seconds before the rocket motors shut down and the vehicle fell back to Earth. Astra did reach space with the second flight, but narrowly missed reaching orbit.

Astra’s third attempt on August 28, 2021 caught people’s attention with its strange maneuvers. Immediately after takeoff, the rocket briefly slid off the ground, then swept to the side after one of its five main engines prematurely stopped. The vehicle then climbed into the sky after a few seconds and even managed to reach an altitude of 31 miles before flight crews completed the launch two minutes and 30 seconds after launch. Astra says there was a rocket thruster leak which caused the engine to shut down prematurely, which was “something we’ve never seen before.” The company claims to have made design changes to ensure that the same failure does not happen again.

“The data from the two-and-a-half-minute flight provided valuable information that we incorporated into the LV0007 and future launchers,” said Chris Kemp, founder and CEO of Astra.

Astra’s lateral failure occurred less than two months after the company went public successfully through a PSPC merger. Company actions drastically drop the Monday following the failed launch attempt. In September, Astra signed a secret $ 30 million deal with rival launch company Firefly Aerospace, which would allow the company to manufacture Firefly’s Reaver rocket engine. Astra’s ultimate goal is to launch small satellites on its rockets, which are only 43 feet tall.

The company’s next launch from Kodiak, Alaska, will carry a test payload for the Space Testing Program, which oversees experimental space launches for the U.S. Department of Defense. Astra says her launch window for the mission first opens on October 27 and ends on October 31. If for some reason the rocket does not fly during this time, the company can try again during another window that runs from November 5 to 12.


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