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Astra rocket aborts orbital test launch for US military at last second

Astra aimed to reach orbit for the first time ever today (Aug. 27), but the company’s Rocket 3.3 aborted the liftoff at the last second. 

The 43-foot-tall (13 meters) Rocket 3.3, also known as Launch Vehicle 006, was poised to lift off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska’s Kodiak Island today at 5:45 p.m. EDT (2145 GMT) on a milestone orbital test flight. And that very nearly happened: The countdown clock reached zero and the rocket’s first-stage engines ignited, but they shut down almost immediately.

“It sounds like the abort was called by our guidance system near T-zero,” an Astra team member said in a NASASpaceflight.com webcast of today’s launch attempt. “It looks like the engines successfully lit but the guidance system called abort.”

Video: Watch Astra’s Rocket 3.2 launch on its 1st successful flight

Small satellite launch company Astra's Rocket 3 series booster stands atop a pad at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska ahead of an attempted launch on Aug. 27, 2021. The rocket aborted the launch at the last second.

Small satellite launch company Astra’s Rocket 3.3 booster stands atop a pad at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska ahead of an attempted launch on Aug. 27, 2021. The rocket aborted the launch at the last second. (Image credit: Astra)

There were still a few hours left in today’s launch window, but Astra decided to stand down to investigate and troubleshoot the issue. There’s no big rush to get the two-stage Rocket 3.3 off the ground; daily launch opportunities for the mission run through Sept. 11. Astra has not yet announced when the next try will be.

Astra, which is based in California’s Bay Area, has attempted two orbital test flights to date, in September and December of last year. The company’s Rocket 3.1 suffered a guidance problem during the first mission and crashed shortly after liftoff. Its successor, Rocket 3.2, reached space but ran out of fuel just before achieving orbital velocity.

Astra addressed these issues with tweaks and upgrades to Rocket 3.3, which stands about 5 feet (1.5 m) taller than its two immediate predecessors and features a more powerful upper stage, among other modifications. The new booster is also carrying a payload, a first for an Astra launch attempt. 

That payload is a mass simulator for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Space Test Program. It will not be deployed during the upcoming mission.

Astra builds mass-produced, flexible and cost-effective rockets designed to launch small satellites to orbit. The company has big ambitions, aiming eventually to launch on a nearly daily cadence from a variety of sites around the world. 

Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall

SPACE.COM SENIOR SPACE WRITER — Michael has been writing for Space.com since 2010. His book about the search for alien life, “Out There,” was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter. 

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