July 3, 2022

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Astra launch of TROPICS-1

Astra’s launch of the NASA Tropics cubes fails

ARCADIA, CA – NASA’s Astra launch of two Tropical Storm Monitoring Cubes on June 12 failed when the rocket’s upper stage prematurely shut down.

The Astra Rocket 3.3, designated LV0010, took off from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 1:43 p.m. ET. The takeoff took place near the end of a two-hour window that opened at 12 p.m. ET, after the initial launch attempt was halted less than two minutes before takeoff due to a problem with the vehicle’s liquid oxygen fuel condition.

The launch was initially carried out according to plan, with a three-minute first stage firing, followed by shutdown of the engine, deployment of payload rhetoric, and stage separation. The upper stage engine caught a burn that was scheduled to last 5 minutes and 15 seconds, according to a mission timeline distributed by the company.

However, about four minutes after this burn, a video clip from the rocket briefly showed a shaft from the engine, after which the car seemed to stumble. The planned time of shutting down the engine and silently deploying the two-cube rocket payload passed.

The company soon admitted that the mission had failed. “We had a nominal flight for the first stage. The upper stage closed early and we didn’t deliver the payloads into orbit,” the company said. chirp. We’ve shared our regrets with NASA and the payload team. More information will be provided after we complete a full review of the data.”

The failure is the second of Astra’s three launch attempts this year. Another NASA launch, also taking place from Cape Canaveral on February 10, Failed when payload separation failed, a problem the company tracked due to a defect in the wiring diagram of the splitter system. The company returned to the March 15 flight, Putting the first customer payloads into orbit at launch from Kodiak Island, Alaska. The company succeeded in reaching orbit in only two of its first seven launches.

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This was launch The first of three time-resolved NASA observations of precipitation structure and storm intensity with the Constellation Smallsats (TROPICS), a set of six three-unit cubes holding microwave radiometers to measure temperature and precipitation in tropical storm systems. The constellation of six satellites could have provided revisit times of less than one hour, allowing scientists to better track the formation of such storms, although the mission could still achieve its science goals with four satellites.

The six TROPICS satellites will launch two simultaneously at three Astra rockets, each in different orbital planes. The mission’s preferred orbits – at 550 kilometers and inclination of 29.75 degrees – improved the science they could produce but drove a custom launch solution rather than launching them as secondary payloads.

“We need to go into a 30-degree inclined orbit and no one really wants to go there,” said William Blackwell, principal investigator for TROPICS at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, in a video about the mission.

NASA acknowledged, however, that it was taking a higher risk with this approach. Astra was awarded a $7.95 million contract for the three launches in February 2021, ahead of the company’s first successful launch.

“Although we are disappointed at the moment, we know: There is value in taking the risk in the overall NASA science suite because innovation is needed for us to lead it,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate science administrator, chirp After the launch fails.

“I am confident that in the future we will succeed in using this ever-invaluable ability to explore the unknown and give others the same opportunity to inspire the world through discovery,” he added.

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