Astra Rocket Unable to Complete NASA Mission

Astra--Astra Space Inc. could not complete its mission to release four small satellites into orbit Thursday, Feb.10

Astra Rocket Unable to Complete NASA Mission

The Astra Rocket 3.3 was able to launch off the ground but unable to release its payloads into orbit Thursday, Feb. 10.

The launch began right at 12 p.m. PT. Alameda-based Astra Space Inc.’s 43-foot rocket launched into the sky from Space Launch Complex 46 in Cape Canaveral, Fl., but about three minutes into its mission the second stage of the rocket began spinning out of control. A video feed from inside the rocket clearly showed the rocket rotating round and round just after the rocket's first and second stages separated. Soon after the video feed cut off.

"Unfortunately, we heard that an issue has been experienced during flight that prevented the delivery of our customer payloads to orbit today," said Carolina Grossman, Astra's director of product management, during a webcast of the launch. "More information will be provided as we complete the data review."

Astra will work with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to investigate what caused the failed flight, according to reports.

The launch mission, Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa 41), was Astra’s first mission for NASA. The ELaNa 41 mission is part of NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contract under NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP). The agency awarded Astra a $3.9 million contract to join the program, according to reports.

“Missions like these are critical for developing new launch vehicles in this growing commercial sector,” said Hamilton Fernandez, mission manager with NASA’s Launch Services Program, on NASA's website blog. “The Astra team demonstrated dedication to supporting NASA’s mission. The lessons learned will benefit them and the agency going forward.”

The plan was to release its payload of four small satellites, CubeSats. Now, both the rocket and satellites are gone. Grossman apologized to NASA and the entities that built the CubeSats during the webcast. The CubeSats were built by engineering teams at University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa, University of New Mexico- Las Cruces, University of California-Berkeley and at the NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Astra’s stock price nosedived after the failed mission. Astra’s stock sat at $5.83 a share at 12 p.m. PT. on Thursday and dropped to $3.44 a share by 12:40 p.m. PT. The Nasdaq halted the stock down five percent at 12:05 p.m. PT. By the end of the trading day the stock was at $3.91 a share, down 26% on the day.

This was Astra’s third attempt to fly the rocket and release the payload . Unlike, the first two attempts, (“Astra Aborts Launch Mission” Feb. 7), this time the Rocket 3.3 was able to get off the ground. The first attempt on Saturday, Feb. 5, was postponed due to a radar issue. The second attempt on Monday, Feb. 7, was “scrubbed” right as the rocket was to lift off due to a “minor telemetry issue,” according to Grossman.

The mission was the company's first-ever launch of operational satellites. The Rocket 3.3 used the LV 0008 launch vehicle.

Astra was founded in 2016. Astra specializes in building small rockets for low-Earth travel that are cost-efficient and can fit in a shipping container. It plans to launch 300 rockets per year by 2025. Astra Space Inc. is headquartered at 1900 Skyhawk St. at Alameda Point.