NASA loses two satellites because of Astra rocket failure (video)

Deepak Gupta June 13, 2022
Updated 2022/06/13 at 5:18 PM

Last Sunday, NASA had planned to send two weather satellites into space. NASA’s observations of the structure of Precipitation and Storm Intensity with a Small Enough Constellation quest (TROPICS) is a constellation of observation platforms that will measure temperature, humidity and precipitation at high resolution and with unprecedented frequency. However, a failure of the Astra rocket lost the satellites.

As mentioned in the video that broadcast the launch, a few minutes after take-off, the upper stage of the rocket prematurely shut down and the payload, which was attached to the second stage, fell without thrust.

Two TROPICS CubeSats lifted off an Astra Rocket 3 from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Force Space Station in Florida yesterday, June 12, 2022.

The launch took place around 18:43 hours in mainland Portugal. Things seemed to be going well at first, but after a nominal flight of the first stage, the upper stage of the rocket shut down early and failed to deliver the TROPICS CubeSats to orbit.

Shortly after the failure, Astra tweeted:

We had a nominal flight in the first phase. The upper phase closed early and we did not deliver the payloads to orbit. We shared our regrets with @NASA and the cargo team. More information will be provided after a thorough review of the data.

NASA: 2 of the six programmed satellites were lost

NASA reports that while they are disappointed at the loss of the two TROPICS CubeSats, the mission is part of the US space agency's ground venture program, which provides opportunities for lower-cost, higher-risk missions.

Despite the loss of the first two of six satellites, the TROPICS constellation will continue to fulfill its scientific objectives with the remaining four CubeSats spread across two orbits. With four satellites, TROPICS will still provide better observations of tropical cyclones compared to traditional observation methods.

As the agency works with emerging launch providers for cost-effective launch capabilities into space, these types of missions are important for expanding scientific knowledge while also fueling the US commercial launch industry.

Three pairs of satellites make up the TROPICS constellation and will work together to provide microwave observations of storms on Earth, measuring a storm's precipitation, temperature and humidity as often as every 50 minutes. credit: NASA

Despite the incident, NASA will temporarily discontinue cooperation with Astra until the regulatory body, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) understands what happened during the launch of TROPICS-1.

Another failure in an Astra launch

This latest launch, which took place yesterday, June 12, was Astra's second failed attempt. The first time, in February, the startup undertook a mission to try to deliver cargo from Spaceflight Inc customers into space.

At the time, the first stage also flew without problems with the fall happening in the second.

Image of the moment the Astra team realizes it has lost two NASA TROPICS satellites

Astra is in the market to offer cheaper launches from anywhere in the world. It has no objective of sending large volumes into space, but wants to capture for itself a share of smaller shipments, like NASA's small meteorological monitoring satellites.

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