Astra's latest mission to deliver NASA weather satellites ends in failure

A second-stage booster shut down just 10 minutes into the launch.


Rocket startup company Astra has suffered from a second launch failure this year as its LV0010 launch vehicle failed to get to orbit with a pair of NASA weather satellites on board. "The upper stage shut down early and we did not deliver the payloads to orbit," the company tweeted. "We have shared our regrets with NASA and the payload team. More information will be provided after we complete a full data review."

The launch was backed by NASA as part of its mission to eventually deliver six TROPICS CubeSat weather satellites into orbit. Those low-cost satellites were designed to help NASA keep better track of developing tropical storms.

NASA was disappointed but remained upbeat about the Astra program. "Although today’s launch with Astra did not go as planned, the mission offered a great opportunity for new science and launch capabilities," tweeted NASA's associate science division administrator Thomas Zuburchen. "Even though we are disappointed right now, we know there is value in taking risks in our overall NASA science portfolio because innovation is required for us to lead."

Astra's last mission also ended in failure, with the loss of four CubeSats including three from universities. The company blamed that on two separate problems, a wiring error and software flaw.

It's not unusual for launch failures early in the life of a rocket company — RocketLab has suffered from three since it started launching in 2017, and even SpaceX failed with its first three Falcon 1 launches from 2006-2008. However, Astra's streak is starting to look like an issue. Of seven attempted orbital launches, five have ended in failure, with issues ranging from guidance problems to software flaws to engine failures.