Featured image credit: Astra / Brady Kenniston
|February 10, 2022 – 20:00-21:00 UTC | 15:00-16:00 EST|
|ELaNa 41 (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites 41), as part of NASA’s VCLS Demo 2 contract|
|Rocket 3.3 – LV0008|
|Space Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46), Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, USA|
|Unknown, up to 50 kg to a 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit|
Where is the payload going?
|To a 500 km low Earth orbit (LEO) at 41° inclination|
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
|No, this is not a capability of Astra|
Where will the first stage land?
|The first stage will crash into the Atlantic Ocean|
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
|No, this is not a capability of Astra|
Are these fairings new?
How’s the weather looking?
|The weather is currently >90% GO for launch (as of February 10, 2022 – 13:00 UTC)|
This will be the:
|– 1st launch for Astra in 2022|
– 1st launch for Astra from SLC-46
– 3rd commercial launch for Astra
– 5th launch of an Astra Rocket 3
– 13th orbital launch attempt of 2022
Where to watch
|NASA Spaceflight’s official livestream|
Live updates on Astra’s Twitter account
What Does All This Mean?
Astra is launching its next payload to space on its Rocket 3.3. ELaNa 41 is part of NASA’s VCLS Demo 2 and will provide four research and technology demonstration payloads, three from universities and one from NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the opportunity to hitch a ride to orbit on Astra’s Rocket 3.3 LV0008. This launch will mark Astra’s first launch from the Space Coast at Space Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, USA.
VCLS Demo 2 Contract
NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 (VCLS Demo 2) contract is the second VCLS contract with VCLS Demo 1 being awarded to Firefly Space Systems, Rocket Lab USA, and Virgin Galactic LLC back in 2015. Five years later in December of 2020, NASA awarded their VCLS Demo 2 contracts to Astra Space, Firefly Black LLC, and Relativity Space.
VCLS Demo 1 Contracts
|Firefly Space Systems Inc.||$5.5 million|
|Rocket Lab USA Inc.||$6.9 million|
|Virgin Galactic LLC||$4.7 million|
VCLS Demo 2 Contracts
|Astra Space Inc.||$3.9 million|
|Relativity Space Inc.||$3.0 million|
|Firefly Black LLC||$9.8 million|
ELaNa 41 Payloads
ELaNa is an initiative that was proposed by NASA and is managed by the Launch Services Program (LSP) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The main aim of this program is to collaborate with universities all across the US to design, manufacture, and launch research satellites into space. ELaNa brings university students closer to real space missions, giving them opportunities to dive in and get involved in the process from A to Z, from designing and assembling CubeSats, to launching and operating them.
ELaNa 41 will give four CubeSats the opportunity to launch on Astra’s Rocket 3.3. Three of these CubeSats come from Universities, while one comes from NASA’s Johnson’s Space Center in Houston, Texas:
- BAMA-1 – University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- INCA – New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
- QubeSat – University of California, Berkeley
- R5-S1 – NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas
As recently as December 2021, the CubeSat CURIE, also from the University of California, Berkeley, was also scheduled to fly on the ELaNa 41 mission, but due to it not being ready in time for final integration in Astra’s Alameda factory in December, it will not be part of ELaNa 41. CURIE will eventually end up in space, still being eligible to fly on a later ELaNa mission.
BAMA-1, designed and assembled by UASpace at the University of Alabama, is a 3U CubeSat weighing 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) and is a technology demonstration satellite. Upon release from LV0008’s second stage, BAMA-1 will deploy its 1 m2 drag sail made out of clear Mylar to drastically reduce the time to de-orbit. It will be deployed out of the aft 1U section of the satellite using common materials that can be bought in any hardware shop. Teams are expecting a de-orbit time of around 2-3 months compared to up to 5 years if the satellite would not have a drag sail.
Teams will work together and coordinate with the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) and the 18th Space Control Squadron to figure out when the best moment would be to deploy the drag sail. This is due to the fact that BAMA-1 has to safely de-orbit without crossing any other satellite’s path in close proximity to them.
BAMA-1’s launch, deployment and de-orbit is only the last step of the project for the students at UASpace, a student club, where 40 to 50 undergraduate students have worked on the various aspects of designing and building a satellite, including flight hard- and software. UASpace is already working on BAMA-2, which will improve upon BAMA-1 by using its gathered data to improve future lifetime analysis and estimations for higher fidelity models.
The Ionospheric Neutron Content Analyzer (INCA) is a 3U CubeSat with a directional Silicon Photomultiplier (SiPM) based neutron detector that was developed by the University of New Hampshire and built by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The goal of this scientific investigation mission is to gather data on the neutron spectrum in low Earth orbit to improve space weather models and forecasts as current data is limited to high altitude balloons. INCA will be the first satellite in low Earth orbit with a neutron detector.
QubeSat is the only 2U CubeSat on the ELaNa 41 mission. It too is a technology demonstration mission with the primary goal to test, qualify, and to see what effects low Earth orbit has on a quantum gyroscope. Developed by researchers at UC Berkeley, QubeSat will look into the application of a quantum gyroscope using nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamonds. Nitrogen-vacancy centers in diamonds are point defects where a carbon atom is substituted by a nitrogen atom, with another neighboring carbon atom missing in the structure of a diamond. This nitrogen-vacancy center has measurable quantum properties, which makes it possible to form a gyroscope that measures angular momentum. This application is especially interesting as it could further downsize gyroscopes for use in the already small CubeSats.
R5-S1 is another 3U CubeSat on ELaNa 41, developed by NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston. Its purpose is to demonstrate and validate fast and cost-effective to build CubeSats. Furthermore, it tries to demonstrate key technologies for in-space inspection, which could help to further improve safety on crewed space exploration. With its cost-effective approach, R5-S1 could also demonstrate a cheaper way to test and validate technologies like high-performance computers, cameras, software, and a new communication method.
From Lift Off
|T-01:15:00||Start of pre-launch procedure|
|T-00:45:00||Propellant load begins|
|T-00:20:00||Propellant load complete|
|T-00:15:00||Entering terminal count|
|T-00:15:00||Water deluge system test|
|T+00:00:06||Begin Pitch Over|
|T+00:02:50||Main Engine Cut Off (MECO)|
|T+00:03:05||Second stage ignition|
|T+00:08:30||Second Engine Cut Off (SECO)|
|T+00:08:40||Payload deployment signal|
Astra’s Rocket 3.3 – LV0008*
This Rocket 3.3, also known as LV0008, is Astra’s third iteration of the third version of their small-sat launch vehicle, with Rocket 3, Rocket 3.1, and Rocket 3.2 preceding Rocket 3.3. The Rocket 3 series is Astra’s orbital rocket series with LV0008 being their 8th rocket overall. With a height of 13.1 m (43 ft), a diameter of 1.32 m (4.3 ft), and a payload capacity of approximately 50 kg to a 500 km Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO), it is in the same class of small-sat launch vehicles as Rocket Lab’s Electron.
This two-stage rocket is powered by RP-1 and LOx. The first stage will make use of five electric-pump-fed Delphin engines which produce a total thrust of ~145 kN (~32,500 lbf) at liftoff. The second stage is powered by a single pressure-fed Aether engine that will produce ~3.3 kN (740 lbf) of thrust in a vacuum. Since Astra is a rather secretive company, they have not released any technical information about their engines, such as ISP (Specific Impulse), TWR (Thrust to Weight Ratio), or combustion chamber pressure. The aluminum body and tanks of Rocket 3 have some similarities to SpaceX’s Starships, with its welded stacked rings of stainless steel.
Another unique characteristic is that Astra’s Rocket 3 series rockets fit into a standard shipping container and can be towed by a truck. To set up the rocket on its mobile launch structure, it only takes a handful of ground support staff and about a week to go through vehicle checks, a wet dress rehearsal, and the launch readiness review. Astra’s goal for the future is to bring the time required to set up the rocket down to under 24 hours, so that it can meet the needs of some special customers who require a rapid launch schedule for their payloads.
*Information based on the press kit of Astra’s launch of LV0008
Differences To Earlier Rocket 3 Series Rockets
Astra have upgraded their series 3 rockets launch after launch, and the same is true for this rocket too. After the failed flight of LV0006, Astra implemented following changes to ensure a successful flight:
- Reconfiguration of their propellant supply system to prevent mixing of fuel and oxidizer in case of a leak.
- Modification of the propellant supply mechanism to reduce the risk of leaks.
- Verification procedures have been improved for design and operational processes.
Furthermore, Chris Kemp, CEO of Astra, stated in an interview with NASA Spaceflight that going from LV0005 to LV0006, they have stretched the first stage tanks for more overall performance.
Astra has launched two orbital class rockets in an attempt to reach orbit. So far, all of these launches have failed to achieve orbit, with the latest, Rocket 3.2, just barely missing orbit by about 500 m/s. Its second stage safely re-entered before completing one full rotation of Earth.
- Rocket 3.0: loss of the vehicle during ground testing due to a stuck open valve while detanking the vehicle.
- Rocket 3.1: FTS (flight termination system) activated 21s into flight due to a software issue in the guidance system.
- Rocket 3.2: Rocket 3.2 failed to achieve orbit by ~500 m/s due to a wrong mixture of fuel and oxidizer on the second stage.
- Rocket 3.3: LV0006 was terminated at T+2:31 after one of the engines experienced a failure less than 1s after ignition due to the ignition of leaking fuel and oxidizer in the propellant supply system, better known as a quick disconnect, at the base of the rocket.
It’s too cloudy to see this launch from afar, but it would be useful for future launches to know which direction the rocket is planned to go. Sometimes that can be derived from the ‘Where is the payload going?’ section, but for many launches, like the recent Starlink launches, the direction could be either North East (the ‘normal’ direction) or South East, like they did for the last couple launches.
I’m up in SC and can go outside and watch some of these launches, depending on which way it’s going.