Astra Space Details Steps Toward Return to Flight after Rocket Failure

Feb. 23, 2022

Nearly two weeks since Astra Space’s first launch from Florida ended with the rocket spinning out of control in space, the company detailed the steps it’s taking to investigate the failure.

The Alameda, California-based company was able to send its Rocket 3.3 in what looked like a good liftoff into space from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Feb. 10, and all looked well until the first-stage separation, according to Andrew Griggs, Astra’s senior director for mission management and assurance.

“In this case, our early findings and flight video show that the first stage burn was nominal, and the anomaly occurred during the stage separation process following Main Engine Cutoff,” he said in a press release.

Video during the launch showed the second stage that held the four small satellites being carried as part of a mission for NASA tumbling end-over-end with the Earth going in and out of view before it cut off.

“We deeply regret the loss of the mission and are working to investigate and identify the root cause of the issue,” Griggs said.

He said the Federal Aviation Administration is letting Astra take the lead on a four-step investigation while it remains in an oversight capacity.

Already, the company has performed its flight data review, which it does for all of its launches. The company had attempted seven previous launches, with one last November reaching orbit successfully.

Also complete is the reconstruction of the flight timeline looking at launch-sequence events and telemetry.

The next step includes a fault-tree analysis in an attempt to identify all possible causes for the failure, and then experiment to narrow down options to the root cause. After that, the company will attempt to fix the root problem for future launches.

“We view this as the most important step because it helps us continuously improve our system and increase its reliability,” Griggs said.

The FAA will approve the final report.

“This investigation process is driven by our core value of learning and allows us to test and iterate at speed,” Griggs said. “We believe that the faster we are able to iterate, the more we can refine our launch system, and the faster we are able to get our customers back to the launch pad.”

The update comes the same day several law firms posted press releases seeking investors who purchased shares of Astra Space, Inc. (NASDAQ: ASTR) to consider joining a class action lawsuit that has been filed. The Feb. 9 lawsuit alleges securities law violations, saying the company made false or misleading statements regarding from where it can launch, its potential customer market, effectiveness of the rocket design and reliability as well as plans for diversification.

The company’s stock took a hit after the Feb. 10 incident, dropping from $5.29 a share to $3.91 a share, and trading as low as $3.10 a share on Feb. 22. A year ago, the stock closed at a high of more than $19.50 a share.

The Florida launch failure slows plans for the company, which had several Cape Canaveral missions on tap this summer. Its lone orbital launch, a demonstration flight for the U.S. Space Force from its Kodiak, Alaska spaceport, put a dummy payload into space. With the Canaveral failure, it has yet to put an operational payload into space.

The Feb. 10 launch was attempting to satisfy a mission for NASA’s Launch Services Program based out of Kennedy Space Center as part of NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 contract.

As a relatively new company, the contract was designed to offer up payloads labeled as “higher risk tolerant payloads” in case of issues such as those seen on the Rocket 3.3.

“The mission is an important part of the process as we help enable a growing U.S. launch market and provide real-world STEM opportunities,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

No timeline was given on when the final report will be ready, or when Astra will attempt another launch.

“We will share more about what we have uncovered when our investigation with the FAA is complete,” Griggs said. “Following that, we expect a safe return to launch.”

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