Astra’s first orbital launch test fails

Capitalism in space: The first orbital launch test of the smallsat rocket company Astra failed last night shortly have liftoff.

In a more detailed update published on Astra’s website several hours after the launch, officials wrote that the rocket’s guidance system “appears to have introduced some slight oscillation into the flight, causing the vehicle to drift from its planned trajectory leading to a commanded shutdown of the engines by the flight safety system.”

“We didn’t meet all of our objectives, but we did gain valuable experience, plus even more valuable flight data,” Astra said. “This launch sets us well on our way to reaching orbit within two additional flights, so we’re happy with the result.”

This failure was not unexpected. The company has made it clear that it was the first of a three flight program aimed at reaching orbit with the third launch.

Astra scrubs launch attempt

Capitalism in space: The smallsat rocket company Astra yesterday scrubbed another attempt to achieve its first orbital launch.

They were forced to stand down at T-25 minutes because of a sensor issue. No further details were released, nor have they as yet announced a new launch date.

This launch will be the third for Astra, following two flights from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in July and November 2018, respectively. These flights were originally believed to be failures. However, Astra stated that the first (designated Rocket 1.0) was successful and that the second (Rocket 2.0) was “shorter than planned.” Neither rocket was designed to reach orbit, as they did not have functioning upper stages.

This scrubbed flight has been dubbed Rocket 3.0, and was part of what the company calls a three launch program aimed at reaching orbit by the third launch. All three launches are orbital, but the company has made it clear that it would not be surprised if the first or even the second failed.

Five American launches in two days!

Capitalism in space: Though the first launches in the string of four American launches that was initially scheduled to begin two days ago and continue through the weekend was delayed because of weather and then technical issues, all these delays have done is pack those scheduled launches into a shorter time period, with the addition of a fifth launch!

If all goes as scheduled (hardly guaranteed), we will see five launches from three spaceports and four private companies in less than two days. The schedule, as of this moment:

August 29th at 2:04 am (Eastern): ULA’s Delta 4 Heavy to launch a military reconnaissance satellite from Cape Canaveral. The company’s webcast of the launch can be seen here.

August 29th at 11:05 pm (Eastern): Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket will launch a commercial radar satellite from New Zealand. The launch can be watched at the company’s live stream channel.

August 30th at 10:08 am (Eastern): SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will launch more of its Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral. All SpaceX launches are live streamed from SpaceX’s website, though the links are not yet up.

August 30th at 7:19 pm (Eastern): SpaceX’s Falcon 9 will launch an Argentinian Earth observation satellite from Cape Canaveral. All SpaceX launches are live streamed from SpaceX’s website, though the links are not yet up.

August 30th at 10:00 pm (Eastern): Astra will attempt the first orbital test launch of its privately built rocket from Kodiak, Alaska. They will not be live streaming their launch, but will provide updates at their Twitter feed.

All times and dates list only the beginning of the launch windows, which means they might launch, but not exactly at the times listed.

Also, SpaceX is aiming to do its second Starship test hop this weekend, the first for its sixth prototype.

Astra ships next rocket to Alaska for launch

Capitalism in space: The smallsat startup Astra has shipped its next test rocket to Kodiak, Alaska, for its planned six-day launch window, beginning on August 2nd.

The new two-stage launch vehicle, which the company calls Rocket 3.1, will take off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island. While the liquid-fueled rocket is designed to reach orbit, Astra says it will consider the test flight a success even it doesn’t enter orbit. “Success for this flight means we accomplish enough to make orbit within three flights, which we have defined as at least achieving a nominal first stage burn,” Astra said in June.

Chris Kemp, Astra’s co-founder and CEO, said the company will not be providing a live video stream of the launch to the public, but will release video imagery of the flight after it occurs. “We do not yet employ production, marketing, or communications folks, so our ability to produce a public webcast is limited,” Kemp said in response to questions from Spaceflight Now. “We are focusing all resources on engineering so that we can reach orbit in the next couple of flights.”

The August 2nd launch date is about two weeks later than they had announced in mid-June, but such a delay is not unreasonable for such a rocket test program.

They had attempted to launch an earlier rocket in March, only to have something go wrong during countdown.

Astra to try its first orbital launch again this week

Capitalsm in space: After aborting its first orbital launch attempt at T-53 seconds, Astra has announced that it will to try its first orbital launch again this week.

They have not revealed the payload. They also admit that they will not be surprised if they fail to reach orbit, as they already assume it will take about three launches to iron out their rocket and systems.

Regardless, if they succeed, they will become the second company, after Rocket Lab, to successfully enter the smallsat market.

No word on whether they will live-stream the launch.

Astra scrubs first orbital launch

Capitalism in space: Astra, competing for DARPA launch challenge, is about to attempt the first orbital launch of its Rocket 3.0. Live stream of launch embedded below.

The rocket is carrying three cubesats. DARPA’s goal is for the development of a rocket system that can very quickly go to launch. In this case Astra only found out what its payloads were about a month before launch, and had to proceed to launch in mere weeks. They will win $2 million. They can get another $10 million if they launch again by the end of March.

The launch went into an unplanned hold 53 seconds before launch. Their launch window extends to 6:30 pm (Eastern), so there is still a chance they can lift-off today.

They have now scrubbed the launch. No word yet on when they will reschedule. Their failure to launch today however means they will not win the $2 million launch challenge. It was unclear from the broadcast if they would win the $10 million if they manage two launches by the end of March. (According to this website, that award is also lost.) It was even unclear whether they would even try to launch their three cubesat payloads.

In fact, as I watched the post-scrub interviews, I began to get suspicious about this whole event. Astra has been very secretive about its work. They have never successfully launched before. Could this merely have been a demonstration that they could get a rocket set up on an empty concrete pad, with payload, in only a matter of weeks, knowing that the launch was simply impossible? I have no idea, but I do wonder.

My suspicions do not mean Astra won’t launch eventually. I just now have doubts they ever were ready today.