In a press release on March 7, Astra released preliminary information about what happened during its ELaNa 41 mission last month. In it, Astra’s LV0008 Rocket 3 suffered from one anomaly, but two.
A quick recap: On February 10, Astra conducted its first launch for NASA and from Florida’s Space Coast. LV0008 lifted off from SLC-46 on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Its first stage performed seemingly flawlessly, however, the second stage began to tumble out of control after a somewhat awkward failed payload deployment.
Failure to deploy the payload fairings
The first failure took place in the payload fairing separation, says Astra. Rocket 3 has five separate mechanisms to separate the fairing halves, and during ELaNa 41’s ill-fated flight, these fired incorrectly, causing one not to fire at all. In a video released by Astra, you will see the second stage deploy and smack itself right into the undeployed fairings before the second stage ignited.
The failure was linked to an incorrect engineering drawing that has now been corrected. During the investigation, Astra could recreate the failure on the ground and fix the remaining rockets currently in production.
Packet loss thrust vector control anomaly
Usually, failed rocket launches have one primary source of failure, but Astra found two completely unrelated failures in ELaNa 41’s launch. You would assume the reason why the rocket’s second stage tumbled out of control was due to its collision with the payload fairing, but it also had no thrust vector control due to a software glitch.
During investigations into the first problem, Astra saw a “packet loss failure mode” that caused the rocket to be incapable of recovering after it started to tumble. So even if Rocket 3’s payload fairings were able to deploy, the fate of NASA’s ELaNa 41 mission would have been the same.
Astra has stated that it has also fixed this issue by improving the Rocket 3’s flight software, making it more resilient to this sort of “packet loss” situation.
Astra getting back on its feet with launch this month
Astra is getting ready to return to launch with its next mission on Rocket 3 LV0009. This mission will occur from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska and will send the S4 CROSSOVER tech demo to space but will stay attached to the second stage. According to FAA flight restrictions, the launch is planned for no earlier than March 13.