Astra Rocket Failure Impacts TROPICS Mission

Image (Credit): Astra rocket for the TROPICS satellites. (Astra)

This weekend we witnessed another example that space operations are risky. On Sunday, Astra’s Rocket LV0010 launched from Cape Canaveral but was unable to place two satellites into orbit. The satellites were part of NASA’s TROPICS-1 mission. The main issue was the engine on the upper portion of the rocket.

As described by Astra on its website, the launch of the Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission was awarded to Astra in February of this year and “consists of a constellation of six small satellites that will observe tropical cyclones, aiming to improve the scientific community’s understanding of these dangerous weather events.” This was the first of three such launches, leaving four satellites untouched and ready to go once Astra, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration figure out what happened this weekend.

This is not the first NASA mishap. Back in February, Rocket LV0008 (also launched from Cape Canaveral) suffered an in-flight anomaly during stage separation. As a result, NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa 41) mission to place CubeSats into orbit failed. CubeSats are miniature satellites designed to provide a low-cost plat­form for NASA missions.

Astra is a relatively new entrant to in the commercial space industry having been founded in 2016. Let’s hope the lessons learned from this mishap and persistence will allow the company to thrive in this competitive and risky industry.