After a major malfunction shortly after liftoff, an Astra rocket carrying two small hurricane-tracking satellites for NASA failed to reach orbit Sunday (June 12).
After taking off from a pad at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 1:43 p.m. EDT, the Astra rocket, dubbed Launch Vehicle 0010 (LV0010), suffered a second-stage failure (1743 GMT). Two NASA cubesats were lost, the first of a six-satellite series launched as part of a $30 million effort to track storms.
During live launch commentary, Astra’s Amanda Durk Frye, senior manager for first stage and engine production, remarked, “We had a nominal first stage flight; however, the upper-stage engine did shut down early and we did not deliver our payloads to orbit.”
In a Twitter update, Astra officials said, “WWe have shared our regrets with @NASA and the payload team.” “More information will be provided after we complete a full data review.” The attempted launch on Sunday was originally scheduled for 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT), but was postponed due to a boat in the launch zone and a fueling problem.
The first satellites of NASA’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity using a Constellation of Smallsats were launched on Astra’s LV0010 mission (TROPICS). The TROPICS mission was the first of three planned by Astra this year, each carrying two NASA cubesats approximately the size of a loaf of bread to complete the hurricane-watching constellation. The TROPICS transaction between Astra and NASA is valued a total of $7.95 million.
“TROPICS will give us very frequent views of tropical cyclones, providing insight into their formation, intensification, and interactions with their environment and providing critical data for storm monitoring and forecasting,” Scott Braun, a research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said before the launch.
NASA wanted to monitor hurricanes and tropical storms every hour by utilising three pairs of TROPICS satellites, each in a different orbit. It’s unclear whether the agency can do this with only four satellites or if the two lost in today’s launch failure will be replaced.
Astra’s unsuccessful launch on Sunday marks the company’s second this year. Astra failed to launch four NASA cubesats as part of the ELaNa 41 mission in February, which was also staged from its Florida launch pad and marked the company’s first effort to launch payloads for a customer. A problem with the rocket’s payload fairing was to blame, and Astra fixed the problem to prevent it from happening again.
A month later, Astra’s LV0009 rocket successfully launched client cargoes into orbit from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island, where the company had previously launched four test missions. In November 2021, one of those test flights resulted in the company’s first successful orbital launch.