May 23, 2022

Live coverage: Astra rocket fails minutes after liftoff

Live coverage of the countdown and launch of Astra’s Rocket 3.3 from pad 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The mission will launch four CubeSats developed by universities and NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Text updates will appear automatically below. Follow us on Twitter.

Astra / NASASpaceflight live stream

Astra’s Rocket 3.3 vehicle failed to reach orbit after entering a tumble a few minutes after liftoff at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT) from Cape Canaveral. Four NASA-sponsored CubeSats were lost in the mishap.

The 43-foot-tall (13.1-meter) rocket tumbled out of control around the time of stage separation and ignition of the second stage engine — roughly three minutes after liftoff from pad 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The rocket’s first stage appeared to work as intended during a 2-minute, 50-second burn using five Delphin engines.

Astra, a commercial space company headquartered in California, confirmed the mission failed to place its four CubeSat payloads into orbit.

The launch Thursday followed two previous tries to send the CubeSats into orbit. The first countdown for Astra’s mission was halted Saturday due to an unavailable asset on the Eastern Range, the U.S. Space Force’s array of tracking and safety infrastructure used on all launches from Cape Canaveral.

The issue was later confirmed to be with a radar system, and Astra announced late Saturday that the company would skip a launch opportunity Sunday and target another countdown Monday. The weather forecast Sunday was not favorable for a launch.

On Monday, Astra got within a second of liftoff but aborted the rocket’s countdown after ignition of its Delphin main engines. Astra held out hope to try again, but ultimately called off the launch attempt later Monday afternoon, citing a “telemetry issue.”

Astra’s 43-foot-tall (13.1-meter) launch vehicle is modestly sized in comparison to other rockets that regularly fly from Cape Canaveral. It’s built to carry payloads of up to 110 pounds (50 kilograms) into an orbit at an altitude of 310 miles (500 kilometers).

The mission Thursday was Astra’s fifth orbital launch attempt since 2020, and the company’s first mission from Cape Canaveral. The mission was programmed to deploy four CubeSats — each about the size of a toaster oven — into orbit around nine minutes after launch.

NASA contracted with Astra for this mission as a demonstration launch before the space agency flies more satellites on Astra’s rockets. The $3.9 million contract is a precursor to future Astra launches with small NASA-owned scientific spacecraft.

One of the CubeSats that flew on Astra’s rocket was developed by students at New Mexico State University. Named INCA, the satellite will collect data on radiation in low Earth orbit.

Another small spacecraft, named QubeSat, came from the University of California, Berkeley, and was to test new miniature gyroscope technologies. The BAMA 1 mission, developed at the University of Alabama, was designed to demonstrate a drag sail device designed to help old satellites and space junk drop out of orbit.

The final payload was a CubeSat named R5-S1 from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. NASA said the mission’s objectives included demonstrating rapid CubeSat development and testing technologies useful for in-space inspection, which could make human spaceflight safer and more efficient.

Read our mission preview story for more details.

ROCKET: Astra’s Rocket 3.3 (LV0008)

PAYLOAD: ELaNa 41 (BAMA 1, INCA, QubeSat, R5-S1)

LAUNCH SITE: SLC-46, Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida

LAUNCH DATE: Feb. 10, 2022

LAUNCH WINDOW: 3:00-4:00 p.m. EST (2000-2100 GMT)

WEATHER FORECAST: Greater than 90% chance of favorable weather

BOOSTER RECOVERY: None

LAUNCH AZIMUTH: Northeast (57 degrees)

TARGET ORBIT: 310 miles (500 kilometers), 41 degrees inclination

LAUNCH TIMELINE:

  • T+00:00: Liftoff
  • T+00:06: Begin pitch over
  • T+01:10: Maximum aerodynamic pressure (Max-Q)
  • T+02:50: First stage main engine cutoff (MECO)
  • T+02:55: Payload fairing jettison
  • T+03:00: Stage separation
  • T+03:05: Second stage engine ignition
  • T+08:30: Second stage engine cutoff (SECO)
  • T+08:40: Payload deployment

MISSION STATS:

  • 5th orbital launch attempt by Astra
  • 3rd launch of Astra’s Rocket 3.3 configuration
  • 1st Astra launch from Florida
  • 4th orbital launch from pad 46
  • 1st Astra launch of 2022
  • 7th orbital launch based out of Cape Canaveral in 2022

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Spaceflight Now