California startup Astra has failed in its effort to deploy four small satellites into orbit after the upper stage of its rocket spun out of control minutes after launch.
The ELaNa 41 mission for NASA launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, February 10, with the early part of the flight appearing to go as planned.
But 3 minutes and 20 seconds after lifting off, at the moment when the planned stage separation occurred, livestream footage from a camera attached to the upper stage of Astra’s Rocket 3.3 suggested all was not well, with the view from the feed appearing to spin uncontrollably seconds before cutting out.
Nine minutes later, NASA’s livestream presenter confirmed that Astra’s debut launch for NASA had failed to deliver the satellites to orbit.
The footage below, livestreamed by NASASpaceFlight, shows the doomed mission unfold and includes the moment (at 1:02:27) when the upper stage failed.
The lost payload comprised four CubeSats selected through NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which provides launch opportunities for small research satellites built by universities, high schools, and non-profit organizations — in this case the University of Alabama, New Mexico State University, and the University of California. The fourth satellite was designed and built by NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Astra said on Twitter it was “deeply sorry” to its customers for the failed launch.
“We experienced an issue during today’s flight that resulted in the payloads not being delivered to orbit,” the company said. “We are deeply sorry to our customers @NASA and the small satellite teams. More information will be provided after we complete a data review.”
We experienced an issue during today's flight that resulted in the payloads not being delivered to orbit.
We are deeply sorry to our customers @NASA and the small satellite teams. More information will be provided after we complete a data review.
— Astra (@Astra) February 10, 2022
NASA reacted with the message: “Spaceflight is never easy, and we want to encourage all, especially the university students and @NASA_Johnson team behind the CubeSats on today’s launch attempt, to keep going.”
Spaceflight is never easy, and we want to encourage all, especially the university students and @NASA_Johnson team behind the CubeSats on today's launch attempt, to keep going. https://t.co/UgUswcgmoy
We go to the stars through difficulty, and we go together. https://t.co/ECWhR9XaTe
— NASA (@NASA) February 10, 2022
Astra chief Chris Kemp expressed his sorrow at the mission’s failure, promising to provide more information about the flight when it becomes available.
We experienced an issue in today's flight. I'm deeply sorry we were not able to deliver our customer's payloads. I'm with the team looking at data, and we will provide more info as soon as we can.
— Chris Kemp (@Kemp) February 10, 2022
The failure is a huge blow for a company still trying to establish itself as a reliable satellite launch provider, with only one of its five launch efforts to date making it to orbit.
As NASA pointed out, Astra’s failed mission highlights the huge challenges faced by commercial space companies as they attempt to build launch systems that work. Heavyweight rival SpaceX makes it look easy, but its path to success was also rocky— a fact that should give Astra hope as it continues its efforts to develop a more stable system.
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