Astra, a small-rocket firm primarily based in California nonetheless striving to achieve orbit, has set of goal date of October 27 for its next launch attempt. The rocket, merely named “LV0007,” will carry a check payload weighing a couple of dozen kilograms for the US Space Force.
The stakes are excessive for this mission. Although the payload is small and certain of comparatively little financial worth, Astra must display its viability as a launch firm after a number of failures. This would be the firm’s fourth attempt to achieve orbit—and it comes as different small launch rivals are both efficiently orbiting their rockets or quickly to make their first makes an attempt.
“Our workforce is wanting ahead to returning to flight and studying extra about our launch system, in line with our launch and be taught philosophy,” stated Chris Kemp, founder, chairman and CEO of Astra, in a information launch asserting the flight.
As its identify implies, that is the seventh rocket Astra has constructed. The first two fashions have been strictly for suborbital exams. The third rocket was misplaced throughout a launch pad hearth. The fourth rocket—the corporate’s very first attempt at an orbital launch—failed after about 30 seconds on account of a steerage error. That flight passed off in September 2020. During a subsequent attempt in December 2020, LV0005 reached area however didn’t have sufficient propellant to achieve orbit.
Although technically a failure, this second flight demonstrated excellent first-stage efficiency, stage separation, and a second engine burn. This gave Astra confidence that it might attain orbit on a 3rd flight attempt.
So expectations have been excessive on August 28, 2021, when LV0006 counted all the way down to an attempt. But the launch went sideways virtually from the second the engines ignited, with the rocket transferring extra horizontal than vertical, earlier than correcting itself and following an upward trajectory. After 148 seconds, a spread security officer terminated the flight after it moved out of its launch hall.
In a weblog publish printed Tuesday morning, Astra chief engineer Benjamin Lyon offered extra details about this failure and steps the corporate has taken to make sure it doesn’t occur once more.
“The subject we encountered was one thing we hadn’t seen earlier than,” Lyon wrote. “Leading as much as liftoff, the primary stage propellant distribution system offers the rocket with gasoline and oxidizer. We designed the system to shortly disconnect and seal when the rocket lifts off. On this launch, propellants leaked from the system, blended, and have become trapped in an enclosed area beneath the interface between the rocket and the launcher.”
At this level, exhaust from the rocket’s 5 engines ignited the propellant, which in flip lower the connection to the gasoline pump electronics. This led to a shutdown of one of many rocket’s engines a fraction of a second after the booster lifted off. This induced the rocket to successfully hover earlier than its on-board flight software program compensated, permitting the rocket to fly extra upward. The 4 remaining engines, nevertheless, didn’t have sufficient thrust to spice up the rocket into orbit.
Lyon stated Astra has modified the design of the rocket’s fueling system in order that the kerosene gasoline and liquid oxygen oxidizer can now not combine. It has additionally been modified to additional scale back the danger of leakage in the course of the fueling course of. “We consider these adjustments considerably scale back the probability of seeing an analogous occasion sooner or later,” Lyon stated.
And so Astra will return to its launch website in Kodiak, Alaska, later this month for its fourth attempt to achieve orbit. The firm has a main launch window from October 27 by way of October 31, with a backup alternative operating from November 5 by way of November 12.
After finishing a Special Purpose Acquisition Company transaction earlier this yr, Astra turned a publicly traded firm on July 1. Since that point the corporate’s inventory has fallen by practically 50 %. A profitable launch, validating Astra’s rocket know-how, and giving it some momentum for future developments would probably go a great distance towards spurring a restoration within the inventory value.