A rocket belonging to the up-and-coming Astra space company failed to deliver two of NASA’s weather-tracking satellites to space after its second stage engine shut down prematurely. Both satellites were lost as a result of the failure.
Astra’s Launch Vehicle 0010 (LV0010) successfully took off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 1:43PM ET, but suffered an upper stage failure about 10 minutes into its flight. The launch was part of NASA’s mission to send six TROPICS satellites into space — these small, foot-long CubeSats are supposed to help NASA keep better track of developing tropical storms. CubeSats are low-cost satellites frequently built by researchers at colleges and universities.
“The upper stage shut down early and we did not deliver the payloads to orbit,” Astra said in a statement on Twitter. “We have shared our regrets with @NASA and the payload team.” Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA’s science division, acknowledged the unsuccessful launch in a thread on Twitter, but remained optimistic, noting it still “offered a great opportunity for new science and launch capabilities.”
It’s unclear if or when NASA plans on launching the remaining TROPICS satellites with Astra, or if the two that have been lost will be replaced. When reached for comment, NASA referred The Verge to an update on its website, noting Astra and the Federal Aviation Administration are investigating the incident. While NASA says it “will lend any expertise needed,” it “would expect to pause the launch with Astra while an investigation is being conducted.”
Astra first partnered with NASA in February to bring a set of CubeSats to space, marking its first launch out of Cape Canaveral. However, Astra lost the payload after the rocket appeared to spin out of control after launch.
So far, Astra has only had two successful orbital launches out of seven total attempts — the company reached orbit for the first time last November and successfully deployed a customer’s satellites into orbit in March. A range of issues has impacted Astra’s other launches, ranging from problems with its guidance system to engine failure.
Update June 13th, 9:29AM ET: Updated to add an additional statement from NASA.