Astra’s third effort to reach orbit was thwarted on August 28 when the Rocket 3.3 spacecraft battled to lift off the launch pad due to an engine failure and ultimately failed in flight. At about 6:35 p.m. Eastern, Astra’s tiny launch vehicle, dubbed LV0006, fired its five first-stage engines from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on the Kodiak Island. The launch was delayed from the commencement of the window at exactly 4 p.m. Eastern due to a variety of difficulties, including the need for more time to load fuel and update software parameters.
Instead of soaring vertically, the rocket tipped and slid horizontally, hovering just above the ground. The sideways motion came to a halt after roughly 20 seconds, during which point this rocket began to ascent. The rocket continued to climb until roughly 2½ minutes after liftoff when the first-stage burn was nearly complete. The engines shut down as well as the spacecraft tumbling onboard were broadcast on the launch webcast, with a call to “terminate” audible on the launch audio.
Chris Kemp, co-founder, and CEO of Astra claimed one of 5 first-stage engines did fail less than 1 second after liftoff in a media teleconference around 90 minutes after the disaster. He said, “We’re still investigating why that happened.” The guidance system kept control of the rocket, and it resumed flying horizontally for several seconds until we burnt up enough propellants to resume our liftoff.”
He claimed that the range gave the order to turn off the engines 2½ minutes into the flight since the vehicle had deviated from its allowed trajectory. Before actually crashing into the ocean downrange from Kodiak Island, the vehicle reached a max altitude of around 50 kilometers, causing no harm or injury to the people. “We gathered a significant amount of data from the flight, and Launch Vehicle 7 is nearing completion, so we’ll be able to integrate everything we gained before moving it up to the Kodiak and deploying again,” he said.
The previous day’s launch attempt was canceled immediately after the engine starts, which Astra later explained was due to the engine thrust not ramping up as quickly as predicted. “We have no basis to assume these are connected right now,” Kemp added.
The rocket seemed to collide with the launch platform in video from the launch, at which point it overturned and proceeded sideways. “We’re still seeking for any fingerprints of all that,” he said but added that any such touch would have occurred after the engine had shut down.
He went on to say, “We’re impressed with the navigation system.” “Given that one of our engines failed so early in the flight, the concept that the rocket-maintained control and finish the flight and resume the trajectory was incredible.”