Launch vehicle 0006 took place on 28th August when the rocket suffered an anomaly. Lifting off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island at 6:35 p.m. EDT, this was the California Bay Area start-up’s third orbital test flight attempt.
The mission was originally scheduled for 27th August, but the rocket’s guidance system called an abort shortly after engine ignition. The engine-configuration issue was resolved and the booster was ready for lift-off a day later.
The two-stage launch vehicle floundered sideways during lift-off but then recovered and reached an altitude of about 33 km before shutting down. The mission was terminated after 2.5 minutes, just before the point where the mechanical stresses on a rocket are the highest. The 13 m tall rocket from Astra’s 3.3 series carried a mass simulator for the U.S. Department of Defense.
Initial analyses showed that one of the rocket’s five first-stage engines failed right after lift-off, Astra said. Launch Vehicle 0006 could only take off with the remaining four engines as it burned fuel during its sideways slide and became light enough. 2 minutes and 28 seconds into the flight however, the launch range issued an all-engine shutdown command.
Astra had launched two orbital test flights before, with limited success. In September 2020, Rocket 3.1 came crashing back to Earth after a guidance issue. Three months later, Rocket 3.2 ran out of fuel just before attaining orbital velocity.
Saturday’s launch was the first of two contracted by the U.S. Space Force. Astra has also signed deals for more than 50 launches worth over US $150 million in revenue. These include among others the company Planet and NASA’s TROPICS mission.