Astra’s first Florida launch gets off the ground but fails to deliver payload to orbit

Second stage appeared to spin out of control before feed was cut off

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – After a couple of scrubs, Astra was able to launch a rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in its first Florida launch; however, the rocket was not able to deliver its payload to orbit.

The launch window opened at 3 p.m. Thursday for its Educational Launch of Nanosatellites mission, called the ELaNa 41 mission, which was aimed at carrying four small research satellites to low-Earth orbit, but something went wrong during the second stage separation.

The second stage appeared to spin out of control and the video feed was cut off abruptly.

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“We experienced an issue in today’s flight. I’m deeply sorry we were not able to deliver our customer’s payloads. I’m with the team looking at data, and we will provide more info as soon as we can,” Astra founder and CEO Chris Kemp said in a Twitter post.

“Unfortunately, we heard that an issue has been experienced during flight that prevented the delivery of our customer payloads to orbit today,” said the Astra employee commentating on the launch. “We are deeply sorry to our customers, NASA, the University of Alabama, the University of New Mexico and the University of California Berkley. More information will be provided as we complete a data review.”

The satellites that were supposed to be deployed were developed by students from the University of Alabama, New Mexico State and University of California, Berkeley, with the fourth from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station was originally scheduled for Saturday, but it was pushed back to Monday due to unfavorable weather conditions. Monday’s launch was delayed and aborted before finally being scrubbed during the three-hour launch window due to technical issues, according to space officials.

Up to this point, Astra has only launched its Rocket 3.3 — an expendable, two-stage rocket designed to fit inside a standard shipping container — from Alaska, according to the company.

The rocket’s first stage is only 43 feet tall when vertical and 52 inches, a little more than four feet, in diameter. For comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is nearly 230 feet tall when vertical and about 12 feet in diameter.

About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.