Astra launched its first rocket from Florida’s “Space Coast” today, with a liftoff from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. It was the startup’s second attempt after an earlier one was scrubbed on Monday due to a technical issue, and this time the rocket got off the pad — but unfortunately, the payloads didn’t make it to orbit.
According to the company, the rocket encountered an issue during flight that meant it didn’t get a chance to deliver any of its payloads to their target destination. That means NASA’s four CubeSats on board will be lost. Astra was awarded this contract under NASA’s Launch Services Program, and it was intended to show the efficacy of a low-cost alternative light-load rocket delivery to space for small payloads.
During Astra’s live launch webcast, something appeared to have gone wrong shortly after the cut-off of the rocket’s main engine and separation of the booster and upper stages of the vehicle. The upper stage appeared to be tumbling out of control on the video feed before it cut out.
Astra’s approach has focused on mass producing small rockets at a higher volume than its competitors in the industry, with a focus on speed and efficiency. Astra CEO Chris Kemp has commented to TechCrunch previously that it is fully aware it could incur a higher failure rate than competitors as a trade-off for its lower-cost approach, and that that is baked into the business model.
However, Astra has now had a couple of failures in relatively close proximity — both after going public on the NYSE via a SPAC merger. The last one happened in August, when its first official commercial launch (carrying test payloads on behalf of the U.S. Space Force) failed to reach orbit. Astra did successfully launch a commercial payload to orbit in November, however.