An electrical issue prevented the payload fairings of an Astra rocket from completing the process, resulting in the upper stage failing to reach orbit and ending a NASA mission unsuccessfully, Astra said Sunday in a preliminary report of the mission’s end on Feb. 10.
What You Need To Know
- Astra releases preliminary report on failed mission in February
- The top stage carrying the satellite didn't separate from the first stage
- An engineering drawing error and a software issue were at fault, Astra said
- The company says it has fixed both of the issues
The launch was the first by California-based Astra from Canaveral Space Force Station, and liftoff of its Rocket 3.3 was a success.
Astra’s mission was to deploy four mini-satellites intended for orbit that had been designed to test operations in the space environment. Three more Astra missions are planned to be launching from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Launch Complex 46.
According to Astra, the separation mechanisms did not fire in the correct order, which caused unusual movement that resulted in an electrical disconnection. The last separation mechanism never received its command to open, which prevented the fairing from separating completely before upper-stage ignition, Astra said.
In addition, the upper-stage engine was unable to use its Thrust Vector Control system because of a software issue, the company reported.
The cause of the fairing separation was an error in an electrical harness engineering drawing, Astra said. Although an end-of-line signal test was performed to verify the separation system and ensure that the system was wired correctly, it would not have been able to discover a design concern, Astra said.
After discovering the problems in the harness and the software, the drawing error was corrected and the required change was made on previously built harnesses, Astra said in its report. The software also was updated to try to make it more resilient to failures. The company also implemented a new end-of-line signal test that would help identify similar issues in the future if it occurred before launch.
The Federal Aviation Administration had permitted California-based Astra to conduct the investigation, but the report has not yet been finalized with the FAA.
Astra was among three companies picked by NASA in 2020 to launch small satellites. The company received $3.9 million.
NASA mission manager Hamilton Fernandez reiterated the space agency's support following the accident.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.