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NASA Removes TROPICS Satellites From Astra Space’s Manifest as Company Determines Cause of June Launch Failure

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
September 29, 2022
TROPICS mission CubeSat (Credit: Blue Canyon Technologies)

NASA has removed four Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) satellites from Astra Space’s launch manifest after the company destroyed the first two spacecraft in a launch failure in June.

Astra Space will instead launch “comparable scientific payloads” for the space agency under a contract modification, the company said in an announcement posted on its website.

“We are delighted to maintain our strong partnership and to have NASA as a launch customer on the next version of Astra’s rocket,” the company said.

The satellites will fly on Astra’s upgraded Rocket 4.0 booster. The company retired the failure-plagued Rocket 3.3 launcher after the TROPICS flight.

In a separate statement, Astra said it has identified the cause of the failure.

“We’ve determined that the upper stage shut down early due to a higher-than-normal fuel consumption rate. Through the review of flight data, reconstruction of flight timelines, and the construction of an extensive fault tree, we have narrowed the root cause to an issue with the upper stage engine. We have also completed many rounds of ground testing, including multiple tests that yielded results consistent with the failure condition in flight,” Astra said in a separate statement.

“The team is conducting additional experiments to verify the root cause before wrapping up the investigation with the FAA. We are focused on conducting an exhaustive investigation and ensuring that we extract all lessons learned,” the company added.

NASA is exploring other options for launching the remaining TROPICS spacecraft, which are designed to provide data about tropical cyclones. The space agency has said the mission can be completed with only four satellites.

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