Next up, a little rocket that couldn’t quite do it. On August 28 at 22:35 UTC, an Astra Space Rocket 3.3 (yes, that’s really the name) launched the equally blandly named STP-27AD1 mission from the Pacific Spaceport Complex, launchpad 3B, in Kodiak, Alaska.
The rocket lifted off but almost immediately took a ten-degree pitch and hovered sideways for some distance, burning a dark streak in the grass around the launch site as it traveled horizontally away from the launch pad. Finally, at about T+16 seconds, it burned enough propellant to begin rising away from the Earth — you know, the direction rockets are supposed to go — and headed downrange.
Just over two minutes later at Max-Q (the point of maximum dynamic pressure on the spacecraft during launch), the rocket tumbled end over end and was observed shedding debris. At this point, it was heading out of the safety corridor where it could have potentially hit someone or something, so Range Safety then commanded the shutdown of the rocket’s engines. And yes, in case you were wondering, Astra’s launch webcast did indeed cover every event including flight termination.
After the launch, Astra CEO Chris Kemp said that the rocket’s odd liftoff was because one of its five main engines failed less than one second after ignition. The poor rocket was doomed from the start.
Even though the rocket didn’t make it to space, it still had a payload. The United States Space Force flew an instrumented test payload instead of a real satellite. This test payload recorded the flight environment of the rocket. Although it may not sound exciting, the data collected by the test payload would have been used by Astra and their customers to get a better idea of how the rocket flies so the customers can ensure their payload will be able to withstand vibration and acceleration on its way to space.
Astra press release