- Parabolic Arc
- June 7, 2023
NASA Statement on Launch Failure, Loss of TROPICS Spacecraft
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — While we are disappointed in the loss of the two TROPICS CubeSats, the mission is part of NASA’s Earth venture program, which provides opportunities for lower-cost, higher risk missions. Despite a loss of the first two of six satellites, the TROPICS constellation will still meet its science objectives with the four remaining CubeSats distributed in two orbits. With four satellites, TROPICS will still provide improved time-resolved observations of tropical cyclones compared to traditional observing methods.
TROPICS is an Earth venture mission – science-driven, competitively selected, low-cost missions that provide opportunity for investment in innovative Earth science to enhance our capability to better understand the current state of the Earth system and to enable continual improvement in the prediction of future changes.
As the agency works with emerging launch providers for cost-effective launch capabilities to space, these types of missions are important to expand our scientific knowledge while fostering the U.S. commercial launch industry.
As a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) licensed mission, the FAA and Astra will lead the investigation to understand what happened during the TROPICS-1 launch. NASA will lend any expertise needed but would expect to pause the launch effort with Astra while an investigation is being conducted to ensure we move forward when ready.
NASA’s Launch Services Program, which is managing the launch service for the mission, continues to work with emerging launch providers to deliver low-cost science missions into orbit with contracts that align with commercial practices, using less NASA oversight to achieve lower launch costs. Small satellites and Class D payloads tolerate relatively high risk and serve as an ideal platform for technical and architecture innovation, contributing to NASA’s science research and technology development.
Thanks to the transparency displayed by Astra, NASA has been involved with the investigation on Astra’s previous launch. Additionally, we have been engaged in the discussions about lessons learned and corrective actions. We recognize the risks inherent in a new launch provider and will lend our assistance as needed.
6 responses to “NASA Statement on Launch Failure, Loss of TROPICS Spacecraft”
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I saw that NASA only spent $40 million on the project with $8 million for launch, so it looks like the Cube Sats are very cheap and expendable with only 4 needed to do the monitoring for storms – nickel and dime in terms of the NASA budget. Hopefully the next two launches will work.
That is $40M wasted if any one of the remaining 4 TROPICS 3U CubeSat don’t get to the proper orbit. Astra Space had their chances, it is time for NASA to move the launches to a more reliable launch provider. Unlike Astra Space with their 2 success out of 7 Rocket 3.3 launches.
I’m actually not sure if that $40M would be wasted, because most of the sat costs would be in R&D. They already manufactured 6 sats, i doubt the incermental cost of building a few more backup sats is more than a few hundred k.
But of course, the failed launch price is would have to be written off
The TROPICS program already have a pair of orbital backups allocated. AIUI, they need 4 working satellites to get meaningful results. So added 2 extra for orbital attrition. Don’t think they expected any of the satellites to not make orbit.
Building more satellites requires additional new funding. Since most of the budget go to the standing army needed to build and operated the satellites. Which gets pay regardless if the satellites are operational in orbit or not. Getting the additional funding will likely have more Congressional interest in the process.
I was saddened to watch the failure. Astra came very close to success this time. A secondary note: it looked like the water-based acoustic suppression system failed just before liftoff, and I saw damage to ground support equipment as well.
Looks like I called this one…