Small launch vehicle startup Astra’s first orbital launch attempt has ended in failure. Preliminary data indicates that the failure was the result of a slight oscillation caused by the guidance system.
The mission, which was dubbed Rocket 3.1 was launched from Astra’s Kodiak launch facility in Alaska at 05:19 UTC this morning. Although everything appeared to be going smoothly at first, shortly into the flight the first stage engines shut down and the rocket fell back down to Earth.
According to a September 12 Astra blog entry, a slight oscillation was introduced by the guidance system. This caused the rocket to drift off its planned trajectory which triggered “a commanded shutdown of the engines by the flight safety system.”
Despite the failure, Astra remains positive. The company has confirmed that Rocket 3.2 has been completed and preparations are underway to prepare it for flight. The small launch provider has not yet revealed when it hopes to launch the mission.
The development of a new rocket is a complex undertaking. SpaceX, for example, required four flights before they made it into orbit with the Falcon 1. Astra has stated that it hopes to complete a successful flight into orbit within just three launches.
“This launch sets us well on our way to reaching orbit within two additional flights, so we’re happy with the result.”
Although the small launch vehicle market is becoming increasingly saturated, Astra hopes to carve out a slice for itself by offering a cheap mass-produced vehicle with a highly-automated launch system.
According to Astra, the entire launch system for this morning’s attempt was deployed by just six people in less than a week, an almost unheard-of benchmark in the industry. The launch system will likely be improved further leaving only the not insignificant goal of mass production remaining as yet unachieved.