Spaceflight startup Astra successfully deployed satellites for three private companies on Tuesday, March 15. You can watch the liftoff below.
A lot was riding on the effort as it marked the California company’s first launch since last month, when a rocket carrying a payload for NASA lost control midflight.
Tuesday’s mission, which launched from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska, saw Astra’s two-stage LV0009 rocket deploy the satellites into their designated orbit about 326 miles above Earth, marking the first successful commercial deployment for the fledgling company in its six-year history.
But there was a period of high tension during the mission’s livestream when it seemed like Astra might have experienced another failed flight.
“We’re standing by to hear word of payload separation,” said one of the livestream’s commentators. But none came. As the minutes ticked by, there was still no confirmation of the deployment. Looking a little nervous, the hosts eventually brought the livestream to a close, promising an update when it received more news. A short while later, the livestream returned, with Astra boss Chris Kemp able to deliver the good news in person.
The successful mission is a notable breakthrough for a new company working hard to become a reliable satellite launch provider. Up until Tuesday’s flight, only one of its five launches had made it to orbit. But if it looks to similar companies like well-established SpaceX, it knows that mishaps are to be expected on the route to success.
After investigating February’s failure, Astra said the cause was an issue with the mechanism that’s designed to make the rocket’s nose cone separate later in the flight. The livestream of the launch showed the moment where it all went wrong, 3 minutes and 20 seconds after lift-off, with the video feed from a camera attached to the rocket’s upper stage suddenly becoming unstable before cutting out a few seconds later.
Astra said it was “deeply sorry” to its customers, while NASA, which lost its payload on the flight, responded with the acknowledgement that “spaceflight is never easy.”