Chinese Kuaizhou 1A Rocket Fails After Launch

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

A Kuaizhou 1A rocket failed to orbit the Jilin-1 Gaofen 02C optical remote-sensing satellite after liftoff from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Saturday afternoon.

The official Xinhua news agency attributed the failure to the “abnormal performance” of the launch vehicle. An investigation has commenced.

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Astra Rocket Falls Back to Earth, Explodes on Impact

Astra’s attempt to launch its Rocket 3.1 booster from Alaska came to grief on Friday as the first stage failed in flight, causing the booster to fall back to Earth where it exploded on impact.

“Successful lift off and fly out, but the flight ended during the first stage burn,” the company tweeted. “It does look like we got a good amount of nominal flight time. More updates to come!”

Dramatic video posted on Twitter showed the rocket lift off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The roar of the engine suddenly stopped, and the rocket fell to Earth.

“We are excited to have made a ton of progress on our first of three attempts on our path to orbit! We are incredibly proud of our team; we will review the data, make changes and launch Rocket 3.2, which is nearly complete,” Astra tweeted.

Rocket 3.1 after liftoff from Kodiak Island in Alaska. (Credit: Astra)

Astra, which is based in Alameda, Calif., is attempting to develop an inexpensive rocket capable of launching payloads weighing 25–150 kg (55–331 lb) to a 500 km (311 mile) high sun-synchronous orbit for the ultra-low price of $1 million per flight.

A Whole Bunch of Launches Scheduled — Again

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first-ever mission into a part of the Sun’s atmosphere called the corona. Here it will directly explore solar processes that are key to understanding and forecasting space weather events that can impact life on Earth. (Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Bored beyond tears due to the lockdown? Got nothing to do and nowhere to go? Only reruns on the tube?

Stay home, grab some beers, and fire up that computer. There’s a whole bunch of launches on the schedule over the next four days. ULA, Rocket Lab, SpaceX, Astra and Arianespace are all back in action with six launches from three countries.

SpaceX will attempt two launches on the same day from Florida on Sunday. The company might also attempt a hop of its sixth Starship prototype this weekend. The timing for that is uncertain.

Remember: launches are subject to change without notice. And wagering is strictly prohibited.

August 29

UPDATE: The booster performed an abort at T minus 3 seconds. United Launch Alliance says it will be at least seven days before they can attempt another launch.

Launch Vehicle: Delta IV Heavy
Payload: NROL-44
Launch Time: 2:04 a.m. EDT (0612 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.ulalaunch.com/

An United Launch Alliance Delta 4-Heavy rocket will launch the classified NROL-44 satellite for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.

August 29/30

UPDATE: New Electron launch date is Aug. 30/31 with the same launch window.

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Mission Name: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Optical”
Payload: Sequoia
Launch Window: 11:05 p.m.-3:05 a.m. EDT on Aug. 29/30 (0305-0705 GMT on Aug. 29)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: www.rocketlabusa.com

Rocket Lab is back in action after the failure of its 13th launch on July 4. Electron will carry the Capella Space’s Sequoia synthetic aperture radar satellite on a dedicated mission.

August 30

UPDATE: Launch scrubbed due to weather. Next possible launch window is on Tuesday.

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Starlink 11
Launch Time: 10:08 a.m. EDT (1408 GMT)
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com

The 12th batch of approximately 60 satellites for SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation.

August 30

UPDATE: Launch successful.

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: SAOCOM 1B
Launch Time: 7:19 p.m. EDT (2319 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com

SpaceX will launch the SAOCOM 1B environmental satellite for Argentina’s space agency, CONAE. The mission includes the first polar orbit launch from Cape Canaveral since February 1969. The Falcon 9 first stage will attempt a relatively rare return to land instead of touching down on an offshore drone ship.

August 30/31

UPDATE: Astra has postponed the launch to Sept. 10 from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. EDT (7-9:30 p.m. PDT)

Launch Vehicle: Rocket 3.1
Payloads: None
Launch Window: 10:00 p.m.-12:30 a.m. EDT on Aug. 30/31 (0200-0430 GMT on Aug. 31
Launch Site: Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska
Webcast: none

Astra Space will attempt the first orbital flight of its inexpensive launch vehicle.

September 1/2

Launch Vehicle: Vega
Mission Name: Small Spacecraft Mission Service Proof of Concept (SSMS POF)
Payloads: 53 small satellites
Launch Time: 9:51:10 p.m. EDT on Sept. 1 (0151:10 GMT on Sept. 2)
Launch Site: Kourou, French Guiana
Webcast: Arianespace YouTube channel

Arianespace will attempt the first rideshare mission of its Vega booster. The window for the long delayed launch extends until Sept. 4.

Astra Space Launch Window Opens on Aug. 30

Astra Space 1 of 3 rocket on the launch pad in Alaska. (Credit: DARPA webcast)

Astra Space says its next launch opportunity at Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska is from August 30 to September 3. The window is from 7-9:30 pm PDT each day.

Astra Space Rocket Suffers “Anomaly” at Kodiak Island Spaceport

Astra Space 1 of 3 rocket on the launch pad in Alaska. (Credit: DARPA webcast)

There’s a media report that the Astra Space’s One of Three booster suffered an “anomaly” on Monday while undergoing a dress rehearsal for a launch later this week from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on Kodiak Island. KMXT radio reports:

No details have been released yet as far as what caused the anomaly or how it may affect the upcoming launch.

At 5 p.m. [Alaska Aerospace CEO Mark] Lester said the emergency response had concluded. “The area is still hazardous and should be avoided. There will be personnel on site overnight to monitor,” he said.

Astra Space is developing a booster capable of launching small satellites into low Earth orbit for a price of only $1 million per flight.

Upcoming Launches to Close Out March

Astra Space 1 of 3 rocket on the launch pad in Alaska. (Credit: DARPA webcast)

Here’s quick look at the launches scheduled for the rest of March. Information from Spaceflightnow.com’s launch schedule.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled for March 30 is listed. However, unofficial reports say it has been delayed indefinitely due to travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The booster will launch the SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite for Argentine.

What the months ahead hold in terms of launch is uncertain. Europe has suspended flights out of its launch base in French Guiana. Whether other spaceports are closed remains to be seen. China appears to have weathered the worst of the virus.

I would expect crew and cargo flights to the International Space Station (ISS) to continue. The first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to ISS is scheduled for mid- to late May. It’s difficult to say whether that schedule will hold.

March 23/24

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2C
Payloads: 3 Yaogan 30-06 military surveillance satellites
Launch Time: Approximately 11:40 p.m. EDT on 23rd (0340 GMT on 24th)
Launch Site: Xichang, China

UPDATE: Launch successful.

March 24

Launch Vehicle: Astra Rocket 3.0 “1 of 3”
Payloads: TBA
Launch Window: TBA
Launch Site: Pacific Spaceport Complex, Alaska

UPDATE: Media report of an “anomaly” during a dress rehearsal on Monday.. Extend of anomaly and new schedule uncertain. Doesn’t sound like they’re launching on Tuesday. More details here: https://kmxt.org/2020/03/anomaly-at-pacific-spaceport-complex-launch-rehearsal-no-injuries-as-a-result/

March 26

Launch Vehicle: Atlas V
Payload: AEHF 6 military communications satellite
Launch Window: 2:57-4:57 p.m. EDT (1857-2057 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.ulalaunch.com

March 29

Launch Vehicle: Electron “Don’t Stop Me Now”
Payloads: Multiple CubeSats
Launch Window: 12:43-2:33 a.m. EDT (0443-0633 GMT)
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand
Webcast: www.rocketlabusa.com/

UPDATE: Rocket Lab has suspended preparations on this launch due to the coronavirus.

March 30
(Possibly Postponed)

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite
Launch Time: 7:21 p.m. EDT (2321 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Webcast: www.spacex.com

Astra Space Scrub Launch of New Booster, Ends DARPA Launch Challenge

Astra Space 1 of 3 rocket on the launch pad in Alaska. (Credit: DARPA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Astra Space scrubbed the launch of its new booster from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska (PSC — Alaska) today, putting an end to its attempt to win $12 million in the DARPA Launch Challenge and the competition itself.

The countdown reached 53 seconds prior to a scheduled liftoff at 11:55 a.m. AKST (3:55 EST). The guidance, navigation and control officer called a hold on the launch for an undisclosed data problem.

Astra Space spent the next two hours trying to address the problem and launch the rocket with four satellites aboard. The company scrubbed the launch with about 30 minutes left in the three-hour launch window.

Astra Space, which is based in Alemeda, Calif., was attempting to win $2 million from DARPA for launching today. If it was successful, the company would have been given an opportunity to conduct a second launch from a different pad at PSC — Alaska within days to win an additional $10 million.

The competition challenged companies to conduct two launches on relatively short notice within a few weeks from different locations.

Astra Space was given two weeks to relocate its booster and equipment to Alaska and conduct a launch. Monday was the last day in the launch window for the first launch.

Astra Space was the last company standing in the DARPA competition. Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space pulled out of the competition to focus on the still-pending maiden flight of its LauncherOne booster. Vector Space filed for bankruptcy.

Watch Astra Space Launch Today Live From Alaska

The launch is scheduled for today, weather permitting. Tune in and see if it flies, dies or just sits there for another day.

UPDATE: Launch postponed until Sunday due to weather. Time TBA.

DARPA Launch Challenge Nears End with Modified Rules, One Competitor

The DARPA Launch Challenge is nearing its end with modified rules and only one of three finalists left standing to win $12 million in prize money.

Astra Space will attempt to conduct two launches within days of each other from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The launches will take place from different pads at the spaceport and place satellites into different sun-synchronous trajectories.

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2018 Was Busy Year for Suborbital Flight Tests

SpaceShipTwo fires its hybrid engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 2 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.

The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.

A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.

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Suborbital Flights Stopped Being So Humdrum in 2018

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 1 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.

The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)

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Astra Space Scrubs Second Launch Attempt

Astra Space scrubbed another attempt to launch its Rocket 1 booster from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Friday, according to media reports.

The company, which is based in Alamedia, Calif., had planned to launch the booster on a suborbital flight. The rocket is composed of a first stage and a dummy second stage.

Astra Space had a launch window of May 10-11. The company scrubbed an earlier launch attempt in early April.











Astra Space Reschedules Booster Flight Test

Astra Space has rescheduled the inaugural launch of its new smallsat booster for next month from Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island.

Officials at the Pacific Spaceport Complex did not give a cause for why an April 6 was scrubbed earlier this month, but confirmed the decision was not related to the spaceport facilities, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Friday.

The new launch is scheduled for May 10 or May 11, said Mike Morton, a director of the Alaska Aerospace Corp….

The documents filed last month for the previous planned launch indicated that Astra was authorized to send up a suborbital vehicle to carry “an inert upper stage on a suborbital trajectory without a payload.”

Read the full story.











Astra Space Launch Scrubbed at Last Minute

Astra Space scrubbed a suborbital launch of its Rocket 1 booster on Friday just minutes before the scheduled liftoff, according to press reports.

The cause of the scrub is not known. Nor has there been a new date set for another launch attempt from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island.

The maiden flight of the new booster would have demonstrated the first stage. The vehicle would have carried a dummy second stage.

Formerly known as Ventions, LLC, Astra Space is working under a $2 million contract with NASA to develop and launch a small-satellite booster. The company is based in Alameda, Calif.