Featured image credit: Astra / John Kraus
Lift off time
|November 20, 2021 – 06:16:00 UTC|
November 19, 2021 – 22:16:00 PST
|STP-27AD2, a test payload for the U.S. Space Force|
|U.S. Space Force|
|Rocket 3.3 – LV0007|
|Launch Pad 3B, Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska|
|Unknown, it is a non-deployable test payload|
Where did the payload go?
|To a 500km low Earth orbit (LEO) at 86° inclination|
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
|No, this is not a capability of Astra|
Where did the first stage land?
|The first stage crashed into the Pacific Ocean|
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
|No, this is not a capability of Astra|
Were these fairings new?
This was the:
|– 2nd launch for Astra in 2021 |
– 2nd commercial launch for Astra
– 4th launch of an Astra Rocket 3
– 115th orbital launch attempt of 2021 (108th successful)
Where to re-watch
|NASA Spaceflight’s official livestream|
Live updates on Astra’s Twitter account
How Did It Go?
After some minor hiccups and multiple holds, Astra has successfully launched their Rocket 3.3, designation LV0007, to orbit for the first time. The rocket took off from Launch Pad 3B, Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska at 06:16:00 UTC on November 20, 2021. This makes Astra the 7th private launch provider to achieve orbit.
Astra launched the STP-27AD2 test payload on Rocket 3.3. STP-27AD2 is the second of two test launches for the Department of Defense (DoD) as part of the U.S. Space Force’s Space Test Program (STP). This was Astra’s 4th attempt at reaching orbit and the 1st to be successful.
Due to the classified nature of the program, not much is known about the plans the DoD has for these missions. STP-27AD2 is a non-deployable mass simulator with sensors like STP-27AD1, which will allow Astra and the DoD to validate Rocket 3’s capability. What we know so far is that this is the second of two planned missions flying on Astra’s Rocket 3. The first one, STP-27AD1, failed to reach orbit after an engine on the first stage failed less than a second after ignition. The DoD’s Space Test Program provides flight opportunities for test and experimental payloads.
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*
This Rocket 3.3, also known as LV0007, was Astra’s fifth iteration of the third version of their small-sat launch vehicle. The Rocket 3 series is Astra’s orbital rocket series with LV0007 being their 7th 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 that will 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 LV0007
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, has stated in an interview with NASA Spaceflight that going from LV0005 to LV0006, they have stretched the first stage tanks for more 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 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.
Astra is confident about reaching orbit this time, as it has implemented changes to prevent any similar failures to happen.