After a failed launch attempt, Alameda-based rocket launch startup Astra is planning to go for its second orbital test shot before the end of this year. The company made its first attempt at an orbital test flight on Friday night and tried to send 12 meters tall Rocket 3.1 vehicle into orbit. The test flight was conducted from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island of Alaska. Things were going well at first but suddenly it started drifting off course. This prompted the launch controller to shut down the engine for safety reasons just 30 seconds after the liftoff. The booster came falling on the ground and exploded into a massive fireball. Preliminary investigation revealed that the test flight failed because of a problem in the guidance system. This glitch apparently caused some minor roll oscillations into the flight, said Astra co-founder and chief technology officer Adam London.
Astra co-founder and CEO Chris Kemp, however, stressed that the flight-termination system of the Rocket 3.1 did its job as expected. Explaining the two stage booster, Kemp said that an onboard self-destruct system is not required. Rocket can safely land within a safety area by simply commanding the engines to stop. “It’s a very effective technique and makes rocket safer because this means that the rocket doesn’t have any explosives or pyrotechnics onboard,” Kemp said. He said that a preliminary investigation revealed that the glitch was caused by a software issue.
“This will be a piece of good news if confirmed as this means that Astra will be soon back to the launch pad,” he added. According to the company, Rocket 3.2 is nearly ready for the test flight as testing of the booster and the final assembly is underway at Astra’s Bay Area headquarters. Founded in 2016, Astra has been saying that its goal is to reach orbit successfully within three flights. The company said that despite the failed flight, the performance of Rocket 3.1 was encouraging. Astra has been eyeing to secure a major chunk of the small-satellite launch market which is currently dominated by Rocket Lab.