Astra’s privately developed small satellite launcher crashed shortly after liftoff in the company’s first attempt to reach Orbit on Friday evening from Alaska.
The startup Launch Company confirmed on Twitter that the flight ended during the rocket’s first stage burn after a successful liftoff and initial ascent from a launch pad at the Pacific Spaceport complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
Astra tweeted, “Looks like we got a good amount during a minor flight.”
Astra released an update about the status of the mission on Twitter, but did not provide a public live video stream of the flight.
The 38-foot-long (11.6 m) rocket lifted from Kodiak at 11:19 am EDT Friday (7:19 pm Alaska time; 0319 GMT Saturday). A few minutes later, Astra retweeted and announced that the flight ended soon after takeoff.
Located in Alameda, California, Astra has developed a small two-tier launcher size to orbit microsatellites and CubeSats. It was Astra’s first attempt at the class to be launched on Friday evening, but officials warned ahead of the test flight that the company was unlikely to achieve the class in its first attempt.
The liftoff occurred on Friday after a series of scrubbed launch attempts in early August due to technical issues and inclement weather. Another launch attempt was canceled last month after wandering in a restricted offshore area near the launch site on Kodiak Island.
Astra called off a flight attempt on Thursday to evaluate data from a sensor, then proceeded with another countdown on Friday.
The vehicle launched was designated Rocket 3.1 on Friday, powered by five Astra-built Delphin main engines in the first stage. Kerosene-fueled engines cumulatively produced about 31,500 pounds of thrust.
If the mission continued on Friday, an upper stage on Rocket 3.1 would have ignited a single engine to try to accelerate into the 211-mile (340 kilometers) orbit, Astra officials said before launch.
But the Astra held modest expectations for its first flight of an orbital-orbit rocket.
Astra co-founder and CEO Chris Kemp said in July that the company hit a “hole-in-one” on the rocket 3.1 test flight by completing all the milestones needed to climb the spacecraft and accelerate orbital velocity. Did not intend to. .
Kemp said at a conference call with reporters, “We are good enough to make sure that we are able to get into orbit after three flights, and for us this means that the nominal first stage burns and the upper phase successfully. Be separated. ” In late July before the first series of rocket 3.1 launch attempts.
A tweet by Steve Jurvetson – a venture capitalist with the launch industry – suggested the rocket’s engine be “cut out” approximately 30 seconds after liftoff.
Amateur videos of Kodiak Island shared on social media were also seen shutting down the rocket’s engines shortly after its premature launch. The rocket is then seen to explode upon impact in space, possibly in an area cleared by personnel.
– Jennifer Coulton (@ColtonJennifer) September 12, 2020
Another video from Kodiak showing the Astra launch on Friday night. https://t.co/PGhnJQf7oK
– Stephen Clarke (@ Stephen Clarke 1) September 12, 2020
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted a message of support to Astra on Friday night.
“Sorry to hear that,” Musk tweeted. “I’m sure you’ll understand this. It took us four launches to reach orbit. Rockets are tough.”
“Thanks Elon!” Kemp responded on Twitter. “Digging into the data so that we can find it out. Rocket 3.2 … ready to go
There were no satellites aboard the Rocket 3.1 test flight. Astra’s co-founder and chief technology officer Adam London said in July that the rocket could carry 55 pounds (25 kg) of cargo in 3.1 if it was carrying payloads. London said the Astra has a roadmap for more capable rockets, ultimately aiming to create a launch vehicle to orbit a payload of up to 330 pounds (150 kg).
In a more detailed update published on the Astra website several hours after launch, officials wrote that the rocket’s guidance system “introduces some minor oscillations in flight, causing the vehicle to drift from its planned trajectory to a command stop. Is marching forward. ” Engine by flight safety system. ”
“We didn’t meet all our objectives, but we gained valuable experience, as well as more valuable flight data” Astra said. “This launch sets us well on our way to arriving in orbit within two additional flights, so we are happy with the results.”
Astra said Friday’s test launch was “the first flight of a ground-designed rocket for low-cost mass production and highly-automated launch operation.” The entire launch system was deployed by six people in less than a week – completely unprecedented. ”
Founded in 2016, Astra is developing its own small satellite launcher using an iterative design process. London said the company places a high value on actual flight data, and test flights will necessarily gather critical information for engineers to improve on the rocket.
“Although we are happy with today’s results, we still have more work to do to get to class,” Astra said after the launch on Friday. “Once we arrive in the classroom, we will continue to improve the economics of the system along with distributing our customers’ payloads.
“Over the next several weeks, we will keep a close eye on flight data to determine how to make the next flight more successful,” Astra said. “Rocket 3.2 is already built and is ready for another major step towards orbit. Thank you to our incredible team and their families, all our supporters, and stay with us for updates over the next few weeks. We will be back on the pad before you know it! ”
Kemp said in July that Astra was developing a launch service that is “a lot more affordable” than other smaller launch companies such as Rocket Lab. Astra says it will be able to launch smaller satellites for US military and commercial companies at short notice.
The design of Rocket 3.1 was based on a launch vehicle called Rocket 3.0 that Astra sent to Kodiak earlier this year for an expedition that was part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s launch challenge. The DARPA Launch Challenge, managed by the Pentagon’s Research and Development Agency, was conceived to encourage the development of new responsive commercial US launch systems.
The first Astra mission deadline was March 2, under the DARPA launch challenge. After several weather delays and other schedule slips in late February, Astra fueled their Rocket 3.0 vehicle at Kodiak on March 2, the final day of the challenge.
But Astra foiled the launch attempt due to questionable data from a fuel tank during pressurization of the rocket’s propellant system for liftoff.
It ended Astra’s shot at winning the DARPA Launch Challenge, but the company resolved the problem and was preparing for another launch effort with Rocket 3.0 later in March. However, a problem with a valve on the rocket caused an over-pressure to destroy the vehicle, while the Astra was ejecting the propellant after a countdown.
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