NASA Seeks New Launch Vehicle for TROPICS CubeSats

TROPICS mission CubeSat (Credit: Blue Canyon Technologies)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA is looking for a new way to launch the four remaining CubeSats in its Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) constellation in the wake of Astra’s decision to abandon its failure plagued Rocket 3.3.

The first pair of TROPICS satellites were destroyed on June 12 when the second stage of a Rocket 3.3 failed. Astra announced last week it was abandoning the booster in favor of the larger Rocket 4 and would not launch again in 2022.

Astra said it was in discussions with NASA about using Rocket 4 to launch the remaining TROPICS spacecraft. On Monday, NASA Earth Science program manager Sachidananda Babu said the space agency is seeking alternatives during a NASA town hall meeting at the Small Satellite 2022 conference in Logan, Utah.

Rocket 4 is designed to launch up to 600 kg into Earth orbit. The TROPICS CubeSats weight only 5.3 kg each. The satellites will be launched into an orbit that few other spacecraft use, meaning Astra could have a difficult time finding other satellites to launch along with them.

TROPICS constellation is designed to provide data on tropical cyclones. NASA has said that four satellites could accomplish the mission.

Astra had two successful launches with Rocket 3.3 and five failures. Another booster was destroyed on the launch pad during pre-flight preparations.

SpaceX Rockets U.S. Launches to New Heights in 2022

Falcon 9 launches 53 Starlink satellites on June 17, 2022. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Powered by 33 flights of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, the United States leads all nations with 48 launch attempts through the first seven months of the year. The total is three short of the number of U.S. launches attempted last year, and far ahead of the 27 launches conducted by second place China through the end of July. The U.S. has conducted more launches than the 43 flights conducted by the rest of the world combined.

A number of notable flights were conducted. SpaceX launched two Crew Dragons to the International Space Station (ISS), including the first fully privately funded mission to the orbiting laboratory. United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched Boeing’s CST-100 Starship crew vehicle on an automated flight test to ISS, a crucial step before astronauts to fly on the spacecraft. Small satellite launch provider Rocket Lab conducted its first deep-space mission by sending a spacecraft the size of a microwave to the moon.


Astra Space Shares Plunge 24% After Latest Launch Failure

Credit: Yahoo Finance

Shares of Astra Space (ASTR) plunged by 24 percent on Monday following the company’s latest launch failure the day before.

Astra Space shares are currently trading at $1.54 on the Nasdaq stock exchange. They closed at $2.02 on Friday before rising to $2.14 in after-hours trading.

Astra Space suffered its fifth orbital launch failure in seven attempts when the second stage of its Rocket 3.3 booster shut down prematurely less than one minute before its engine was to have completed its orbital insertion burn. Two NASA Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) spacecraft that were part of a constellation designed to study tropical cyclones were lost in the accident.

The Alameda, Calif.-based company has a contract with NASA for two additional launches that would carry four TROPICS satellites later this year. Those launches will be postponed while Astra Space conducts an investigation into the launch failure.

NASA has said that the TROPICS mission can go forward effectively with only four of the six satellites in orbit.

NASA Statement on Launch Failure, Loss of TROPICS Spacecraft

TROPICS mission CubeSat (Credit: Blue Canyon Technologies)

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.


Astra Space Rocket Launch Fails Again, Two NASA TROPICS Satellites Lost

Rocket 3.3’s second stage Aether engine flashes as it fails during a launch on June 12, 2022. (Credit: Astra Space/Nasaspaceflight webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The second stage of an Astra Space Rocket 3.3 rocket failed less than a minute before planned shutdown on Sunday, sending two NASA TROPICS mission satellites plunging into the atmosphere instead of entering orbit.


NASA to Launch 6 Small Satellites to Monitor, Study Tropical Cyclones

An image of Tropical Cyclone Batsirai over Madagascar captured by the TROPICS Pathfinder satellite in February of 2022. (Credit: NASA)

Update: The launch aboard an Astra Space Rocket 3.3 booster failed after the vehicle’s second stage shut down prematurely on Sunday. NASA said in an update that the TROPICS constellation can still improve the monitoring of tropical cyclones with four satellites. Astra Space has the contract to launch the four additional TROPICS spacecraft on two launches.

By Sofie Bates
NASA’s Earth Science News Team

NASA is launching the first two of six small satellites no earlier than June 12 that will study the formation and development of tropical cyclones almost every hour – about four to six times more often than is possible with current satellites. This is the first of three CubeSat launches for NASA’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission. The remaining satellites will be placed into their orbits during two subsequent launches this year. If successful, the TROPICS satellites will be spread across three orbital planes to cover more of the globe more frequently.


Astra Space Scheduled to Launch NASA TROPICS Mission on Sunday

Astra Space is scheduled to launch NASA’s TROPICS-1 mission on Sunday, June 12 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The launch window opens at 12 p.m. EDT. A livestream of the launch will begin at T-30 minutes:

Astra’s Rocket 3.3 will launch the first two of six small Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) spacecraft that will study the formation and development of tropical cyclones almost every hour – about four to six times more often than is possible with current satellites.

NASA To Launch 4 Earth Science Missions in 2022

An illustration of the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS). JPSS is a collaborative program between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA. JPSS-2 is NOAA’s next-generation operational Earth observation program that acquires and distributes global environmental data primarily from multiple polar-orbiting satellites. (Credits: Orbital ATK/Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems)

By Alison Gold
NASA’s Earth Science News Team

NASA will launch four Earth science missions in 2022 to provide scientists with more information about fundamental climate systems and processes including extreme storms, surface water and oceans, and atmospheric dust. Scientists will discuss the upcoming missions at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) 2021 Fall Meeting, hosted in New Orleans between Dec. 13 and 17.


NASA Awards Contract to Astra Space for 3 Launches

Astra’s Rocket 3.2 on the launch pad. (Credit: John Kraus)

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — NASA has selected Astra Space Inc. to provide a launch service for the agency’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats (TROPICS) mission. The TROPICS mission consists of a constellation of six CubeSats and will increase the scientific community’s understanding of storm processes.

The launch service contract for the TROPICS mission is a firm fixed-price contract valued at $7.95 million. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the launch service.

The CubeSats, each the size of a shoebox, will provide rapid-refresh microwave measurements that can be used to determine temperature, pressure, and humidity inside hurricanes as they form and evolve. The TROPICS mission’s high-revisit imaging and sounding observations are enabled by microwave technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory. These observations will profoundly improve scientists’ understanding of processes driving high-impact storms.

Astra Space will launch the CubeSats on the company’s Rocket 3 from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands with three separate launches over a 120-day period. The TROPICS mission is targeted for launch between Jan. 8 and July 31, 2022, under a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) launch license.

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