The Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (Elana 41) mission got off the ground from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, and it was looking good at first. NASA had four CubeSats — small research satellites — on board. NASASpaceflight carried a live feed of the event. The video appeared to show the vehicle spinning or tumbling several minutes after launch.
“We experienced an issue during today’s flight that resulted in the payloads not being delivered to orbit,” Astra tweeted. “We are deeply sorry to our customers NASA and the small satellite teams. More information will be provided after we complete a data review.”
Astra’s aim is to offer affordable launch services for small satellites and payloads. The NASA satellites that failed to deploy included a technology demonstration of a drag sail designed to deorbit satellites to reduce space debris.
“Missions like these are critical for developing new launch vehicles in this growing commercial sector,” said NASA Launch Services Program mission manager Hamilton Fernandez in a statement. “The Astra team demonstrated dedication to supporting NASA’s mission. The lessons learned will benefit them and the agency going forward.”
Astra and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will investigate the in-flight anomaly. While a mission failure is disappointing, it’s not unusual, especially for a company developing a new rocket system. The path to orbit is paved with missions that didn’t make it.