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Low-cost Astra Rocket Suffers Upper Stage Failure

Astra launched two shoebox-sized NASA satellites from Cape Canaveral on Sunday in a modest mission to enhance storm forecasts, but the second stage of the company’s low-cost launcher failed before reaching orbit, and the payloads were lost. Astra tweeted, “The upper stage stopped down early, and we did not transfer the packages to orbit.” “We’ve informed @NASA and the payload crew of our regrets.”

It was the company’s fifth failure and the seventh launch of Astra’s tiny “Venture-class” Rocket . NASA’s first of three scheduled launches of six mini CubeSats, two at a time, into three orbital planes took place on Sunday. Given the rather dangerous nature of depending on tiny shoebox-size CubeAats and a Rocket with a very limited track record to accomplish mission objectives, the $40 million project only requires four satellites and two successful launches.

NASA stated in the contract that the remaining two missions must be completed by the end of July. Given Sunday’s setback, it’s unclear whether Astra will be able to keep that timeline. The launch on Sunday was an hour and 43 minutes late, owing to the need to guarantee the liquid oxygen propellant load in the Rocket was at the appropriate temperature. Finally, at 1:43 p.m. ET, Astra engineers counted down to liftoff, aiming for the company’s third successful voyage to orbit.

The 43-foot-tall Rocket 3.3 Rocket out from pad 46 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, putting on a dramatic spectacle for local residents and visitors enjoying a bright day on surrounding beaches, with its five first-stage engines delivering 32,500 pounds of thrust.

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