Private space company misses second NASA mission after launch malfunction

Astra shared his "regret" following the loss of the NASA spacecraft following a premature shutdown of one of its rocket stages.

Launch of Astra/NASA Tropics-1. Image: NASA Spaceflight

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Space company Astra failed to deliver two NASA weather satellites into orbit on one of its rockets on Sunday, resulting in the loss of the spacecraft.

The malfunction, which was caused by the premature shutdown of one of the rocket engines, marks the second failed NASA satellite launch attempt this year, following a February mission that ended in failure when the rocket spun out of control.

Astra noted that the rocket’s first stage, located at the bottom of the vehicle, was operating normally, propelling the vehicle along its intended path for several minutes after it launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 1:43 p.m. ET. ‘East.

But the second stage engine flamed out about 10 minutes into the flight, resulting in the loss of a pair of satellites belonging to a NASA constellation called Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission, which aims to improve real-time monitoring of tropical storms.

“We had first nominal flight,” the company said in a tweet. “The upper stage shut down early and we did not deliver the payloads to orbit. We shared our regrets with @NASA and payload team. More information will be provided after we have completed a full review of the data.

Astra won a $7.95 million contract NASA to deliver a total of six TROPICS satellites to orbit over three launches. It’s unclear when the company will send the rest of the constellation, which consists of small spacecraft called CubeSats, into orbit.

“While we are disappointed with the loss of the two TROPICS CubeSats, the mission is part of NASA’s Earth Venture program, which provides opportunities for low-cost, high-risk missions,” NASA said in a statement. a statement on sunday. “Despite the loss of the first two of the six satellites, the TROPICS constellation will still achieve its scientific objectives with the remaining four CubeSats spread over two orbits. With four satellites, TROPICS will always provide better time-resolved observations of tropical cyclones than traditional observing methods.

“As a licensed mission of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the FAA and Astra will conduct the investigation to understand what happened during the launch of TROPICS-1,” the statement said. “NASA will bring all necessary expertise, but would expect to put the launch effort with Astra on hold while an investigation is underway to ensure we move forward when we are ready.”

Although the destruction of NASA’s satellites presented a major setback for the company, Astra successfully launched two more missions from Alaska, starting with a US Space Force project in November 2021, followed by a variety of small satellites in March.

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