Capitalism in space: A launch attempt today by Astra of two NASA weather cubesats, designed to study the evolution of storms in the tropics, was a failure when the upper stage engine shut down prematurely.
This was the second launch failure for Astra out of three launch attempts in 2022. Both this failure and the February 10th failure occurred after the first stage has successfully done its job. The first was due to the failure of the fairings to separate. Today the fairing ejected properly, but then the second stage engine failed.
The launch however did illustrate something quite profound. Though it occurred about one hour and forty-three minutes into its two hour launch window, the launch team was able to recycle the count three times due to various issues and still launch. What makes this significant is that such quick countdown recycles have now become very routine.
When SpaceX did its first quick countdown recycle back during its first Falcon-1 launches in the 2000s it was astonishing, as NASA would never do such a thing. If a NASA shuttle launch aborted close to launch, the agency would always stand down for at least a day to figure things out. Even today, its ability to do a quick countdown recycle with its SLS rocket is almost impossible, as shown during its first attempt to do a dress rehearsal countdown of SLS in April. With each abort the agency had to reschedule for the next day or even later. It had little ability to quickly turn things around.
Private enterprise has since proven that such slow operations are inefficient and unnecessary.
Meanwhile, Astra needs to fix this issue and launch again. It was able to investigate and fix the fairing issue that caused that February launch failure in just over a month. Hopefully it can do the same again.
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