Astra, now a public company, ran into a problem during its first commercial launch (the mission carried a test payload contracted by the U.S. Space Force as part of its Space Test Program) that meant the rocket never made it to orbit. On Saturday, the rocket ignited all its engines at liftoff time on the pad in Alaska, but one of the five engines failed immediately after, which resulted in a rather remarkable hover and drift before it managed to get enough lift to ascend skyward.
Amazingly, despite the initial wobble and sideways list, the rocket did manage to climb to a max altitude of around 50KM (or around 164,000 feet) before the company issued a shutdown command and the rocket safely returned to Earth. That meant it didn’t reach its target, an orbital destination for the simulation of the payload deploy involved in its contracted test.
“We regret that we were unable to accomplish all mission objectives for the U.S. Space Force; however, we captured a tremendous amount of data from this test flight,” said Chris Kemp, founder, chairman and CEO of Astra in a press release issued by the company about the launch. “We will incorporate learnings from this test into future launch vehicles, including LV0007, which is currently in production.”
Astra last flew in December, when one of its test launches reached space, but fell just short of achieving orbital velocity. Astra at the time said that they were confident all that would be required to attain a good orbit were software tweaks to the navigation system.