Astra prepares for next launch after identifying cause of August launch failure

WASHINGTON — Small launch car firm Astra has recognized the reason for an August launch failure and says it can make its subsequent try as quickly as late this month.

In an Oct. 12 assertion, Astra stated the Aug. 28 launch of a Rocket 3.3 car, designated LV0006, failed as a result of propellants leaked from a provide system and ignited, disabling one of many rocket’s 5 first-stage engines lower than one second after liftoff.

“The difficulty we encountered was one thing we hadn’t seen earlier than,” Benjamin Lyon, govt vice chairman and chief engineer of Astra, stated in a weblog put up concerning the investigation. A fast-disconnect system, designed to seal shut when traces feeding RP-1 gasoline and liquid oxygen into the rocket disconnect at liftoff, as an alternative allowed the propellants to leak into an enclosed area between the rocket and its launch platform.

“These propellants have been ignited by the engine exhaust, inflicting an over-pressure occasion that severed the connection to the electronics that management the gasoline pump, shutting down the engine lower than one second after liftoff,” he wrote.

With solely 4 engines working, the rocket hovered simply off the bottom, drifting away from the launch tower till it had burned off sufficient propellant to make it gentle sufficient to ascend underneath its diminished thrust. The car reached max-Q, or most dynamic strain, however the mission terminated shortly thereafter.

Astra says it’s made a number of adjustments to appropriate the issue on future launches. It modified the propellant connections to cut back the danger of leaks, and adjusted the places of the propellant interfaces in order that even when there are leaks, gasoline and oxidizer gained’t combine. The corporate additionally up to date verification processes. “Collectively, we consider these adjustments considerably scale back the probability of seeing the same occasion sooner or later,” Lyon wrote.

With these adjustments in place, Astra stated it’s able to proceed with the launch of its subsequent car, LV0007. That launch, the second of two underneath a U.S. House Power contract and designated STP-27AD2, is scheduled for launch in one in all two home windows. The primary window is from Oct. 27 to 31, whereas the second runs Nov. 5 to 12. The launch will happen from Kodiak Island, Alaska, the placement of the corporate’s three earlier orbital launch makes an attempt.

There had been hypothesis in current days that Astra was making ready for a brand new launch try based mostly on the publication of a brief flight restriction (TFR) Oct. 7 by the Federal Aviation Administration, proscribing airspace within the neighborhood of the Kodiak launch website for “area operations.” Nonetheless, that TFR begins Oct. 19 and runs via Oct. 29, and is configured in a different way than TFRs for earlier Astra launches there.

The upcoming launch would be the fourth orbital launch try for Astra, which didn’t attain orbit on its first three launches however got here shut on its second, in December 2020. Lyon stated that the August launch verified adjustments made after the second launch, together with a closed-loop propellant management system to higher handle propellants and keep away from an early engine shutdown like that on the second launch.

The August launch additionally demonstrated improved steerage, navigation and management (GNC) software program. That revised code, Lyon wrote, “was on full show on this launch when the rocket course-corrected after tipping sideways, making us all very pleased with our GNC.”

Astra didn’t reveal launch plans past its subsequent launch. Nonetheless, at an Oct. 5 on-line assembly of the Small Payload Experience Share Affiliation, an Astra official, Tom Williams, stated the corporate would launch later this yr from a second location that he didn’t determine however “we’ll hopefully announce shortly.” A number one candidate for that second website is Kennedy House Heart’s Launch Advanced 48, a multi-user pad supposed for small launch automobiles like Astra’s that require minimal infrastructure.

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