NASA Seeks New Launch Vehicle for TROPICS CubeSats

TROPICS mission CubeSat (Credit: Blue Canyon Technologies)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is looking for a new way to launch the four remaining CubeSats in its Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) constellation in the wake of Astra’s decision to abandon its failure plagued Rocket 3.3.

The first pair of TROPICS satellites were destroyed on June 12 when the second stage of a Rocket 3.3 failed. Astra announced last week it was abandoning the booster in favor of the larger Rocket 4 and would not launch again in 2022.

Astra said it was in discussions with NASA about using Rocket 4 to launch the remaining TROPICS spacecraft. On Monday, NASA Earth Science program manager Sachidananda Babu said the space agency is seeking alternatives during a NASA town hall meeting at the Small Satellite 2022 conference in Logan, Utah.

Rocket 4 is designed to launch up to 600 kg into Earth orbit. The TROPICS CubeSats weight only 5.3 kg each. The satellites will be launched into an orbit that few other spacecraft use, meaning Astra could have a difficult time finding other satellites to launch along with them.

TROPICS constellation is designed to provide data on tropical cyclones. NASA has said that four satellites could accomplish the mission.

Astra had two successful launches with Rocket 3.3 and five failures. Another booster was destroyed on the launch pad during pre-flight preparations.