Astra Space Fails in Third Attempt to Reach Orbit

Rocket 3.3 makes a wobbly liftoff from Kodiak Island after losing a first stage engine. (Credit: NASASpaceflight.com/Astra Space webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3 failed to reach orbit again on Saturday after liftoff from an Alaskan launch site, marking the third straight failure for the now public company.

The booster had a rough take-off, moving laterally in an unusual manner before recovering to fly toward space. Astra Space later revealed that one of the rocket’s five first stage Delphin engines shut down one second after launch. It is not known why the engine failed.

Astra said the range safety officer shut down the booster’s first stage 2 minutes 30 seconds into the flight after Rocket 3.3 veered off its planned trajectory. The first stage normally cuts off at 2 minute 50 seconds, followed by separation and ignition of the second stage.

A mass simulator provided by the U.S. Space Force was the only payload aboard the booster. The launch was conducted from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island.

It was the third orbital launch failure by Astra, which aims to mass produce inexpensive expendable rockets that can be launched on a daily basis. On Sept. 13, 2020, Astra’s range safety officer ended the company’s first attempt to reach orbit after Rocket 3.1 veered off course 30 seconds after liftoff.

Astra’s second attempt on Dec. 15, 2020 went better. The second stage passed the Karman line at 100 km, which is the internationally recognized boundary of space. But, the stage fell just short of the needed velocity to reach orbit.

Astra officials said the company adjusted Rocket 3.3’s fuel mixture and lengthened its first stage by 5 ft (1.5 m) so it could hold more propellant. The booster also featured a lighter second stage.

The failure came one day after Rocket 3.3 experienced a last-second abort on the launch pad as the first stage engines began to fire. Astra officials said there was an issue with the guidance program.

Astra’s stock (ASTR) decline by 9 percent to $10.62 in after-hours trading on Friday following the aborted launch attempt.

Astra merged with Holicity on June 30 and went public under its own name the following day on the Nasdaq Global Select Market. Holicity was a special purpose acquisition company that already traded on Nasdaq; its purpose was to find a company to merge with and take public.