Private space company loses 2 more NASA satellites — Analysis

Astra, a private contractor, launched an early-stage rocket which failed to carry its payloads into orbit.

A privately-launched rocket, which was to launch two NASA satellites into orbit on Sunday morning, malfunctioned soon after takeoff. The mission failed and the payloads of the US Space Agency were lost for the second year in a row.

“The upper stage shut down early, and we did not deliver the payloads to orbit,”Astra, an aerospace contractor saidSunday “We have shared our regrets with NASA and the payload team. More information will be provided after we complete a full data review.”

Two small NASA satellites were carried by the Tropics-1 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. They were part of an $80 million US project to improve hurricane forecasts. Although it reached space, the engine on the upper stage failed to attain the necessary horizontal velocity for low-earth orbit.

Video footage of the flight showed a flash from the engine’s exhaust as it apparently shut down about one minute ahead of schedule. The livestream footage was then cut off and the rocket appeared to fall.

Astra has conducted seven launches of its Venture-class rocket, and Sunday’s malfunction marked the fifth failure. In February, the rocket it launched spun out of control and crashed to Earth. This destroyed four NASA satellites. As with the previous launch, February’s launch was a shoebox-sized launch and involved a small, inexpensive delivery vehicle.

“Although today’s launch with Astra did not go as planned, the mission offered a great opportunity for new science and launch capabilities,”Thomas Zurbuchen is the chief scientist at NASA. He said that he added: “Even though we are disappointed right now, we know there is value in taking risks in our overall NASA science portfolio because innovation is required for us to lead.”

Private space company ‘sorry’ for NASA satellites destruction

NASA’s hurricane project called for launching two cubesats on each of three rocket launches. To enable accurate analysis of tropical storms, the idea was to launch three satellites in different orbital planes. This would allow for updated tracking and monitoring as well as a better prediction of changes in intensity. Forecasters currently have to wait between four and six hours for their next storm-monitoring satellite.

NASA may still be able speed up the monitoring of storms if four more cubesats can be successfully delivered to orbit. But not as much as with six satellites. NASA has reportedly paid $32million for testing and development of the cubesats. This is in addition to $8 million for Astra rocket launches.



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