Astra plans to halt production on its current missile line after several launch failures.
The California-based company will instead focus on the “next launch system version,” a more powerful vehicle with higher reliability, capability and production rate, the Astra. announce (Opens in a new tab) Thursday (4 August).
The Rocket 3 Booster line has been cancelled, Astra founder and CEO Chris Kemp said during a conference call with investors, referring to the Rocket 3.3, the latest version of the Rocket 3 Booster line.
Recently, Astra launch vehicle 0010 (LV0010) suffered a second stage failure after being lifted from a pillow at Cape Canaveral Space Station In Florida on June 12 cubesthe first fleet of six satellites designed to track hurricanes, lost in failure.
NASA Astra chose to launch those cubes for time-resolved observations of precipitation structure and storm intensity with the Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS). Astra has been contracted to move four more TROPICS cubes up through two launches in a model 7.95 million dollars deal for the company.
Astra said the company plans to move all customers (including NASA) to its next-generation launch system, called Rocket 4. “We are in discussion with NASA to move forward with TROPICS,” Kemp said.
Kemp confirmed that the transition will take some time for customers and that the launch of the Rocket 4 rocket will occur in 2023 at the earliest. “We want to do several test flights, we want to test every component of the system, we want to test the motors, we want to test the stages, we want to test the software, we want to test the electronics,” he said. .
He added that the timeline for switching over to the Rocket 4 would involve “a great deal of uncertainty, because we want to give the team time to do all of this testing before we do another commercial launch.” He urged that Astra engineers be allowed “time to accomplish these milestones” and pledged to provide updates as necessary.
At the same time, Astra is working to understand the cause of the problem with the June 12 launch failure, in coordination with NASA and the US Federal Aviation Administration. Kemp said the rocket was normal in the first stage of flight and detached from the stage that day, but the upper stage ran into a problem that caused it to “run out of fuel and shut down” prematurely.
Including test flights and previous versions, the Rocket 3 line failed five times in seven launches, According to SpaceNews (Opens in a new tab).
Another major failure occurred on February 10, with a mission carrying four small cubes of NASA’s Education Initiative to Launch Nanosatellites. The issue was later traced back to the Fairing Fairing deployment issue, causing the second stage to falter, resulting in a file Satellite loss.
Astra addressed the root causes before its next launch, which saw many reasons Satellites deployed successfully March 15 after launch from the Pacific Spaceport complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. company First successful orbital launch It happened during a test flight in November 2021.
The Rocket 4 will have some design changes in development before test flights begin no later than 2023. The vehicle’s payload capacity will be 1,320 pounds (600 kilograms), a significant increase over previous Astra vehicles, and an upper stage engine has been upgraded to support this change.
“The feedback we got from some of the biggest operators of the constellation was that the satellites were getting bigger,” Kemp said of the design change. By contrast, the latest version of the Rocket 3 missile had a payload capacity of less than one-tenth of its successor, at 110 pounds (50 kg).
Astra said in a statement on Thursday that the launch price of the Rocket 4 missile is expected to be less than $5 million.
Astra aims to provide a differentiated service in the crowded small satellite launch market by using missiles it advertises as cost-effective, portable and efficient. However, a NASA official recently said that the agency is studying its options to continue launching the Tropix system.
“We hired an innovative new launch company, and we knew we were taking some risks. In this case, that risk didn’t pay off,” Karen Saint-Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Sciences Division, said in August. 2. Earth Science Advisory Committee meeting attended by SpaceNews. She added that NASA is in discussions with partners “to see what that path forward would be.”