The first operational launch of Astra’s Rocket 3.3 vehicle failed Feb. 10 when the rocket’s upper stage appeared to tumble out of control after stage separation. SpaceNews reports: The rocket, designated LV0008 by Astra, lifted off from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 3 p.m. Eastern. The launch suffered several days of delays because of a range issue as well as a last-second scrub during the previous launch attempt Feb. 7. However, onboard video of the vehicle showed the upper stage tumbling shortly after separation from the first stage, three minutes after liftoff. The video suggests a potential issue with the separation of the payload fairing, which, according to a mission timeline provided by the company, takes place seconds before stage separation.
This was the fifth orbital launch attempt by Astra of its Rocket 3 vehicle. The first three launches, from September 2020 through August 2021, all failed to reach orbit. The fourth, in November 2021, did reach orbit but did not carry a satellite payload. This launch was carrying four NASA-sponsored cubesats on a mission called Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) 41 by NASA. The agency awarded Astra a $3.9 million contract in December 2020 for the launch through its Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Demo 2 competition. “An issue has been experienced during flight that prevented the delivery of our customer payloads to orbit today. We are deeply sorry to our customers,” said Carolina Grossman, director of product management at Astra, during the launch webcast. The company did not disclose any additional information about the failure. “I’m with the team looking at data, and we will provide more info as soon as we can,” Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, tweeted minutes after the failure.