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We’ve had a few launches this week, including SpaceX’s first after one of its longest breaks in recent activity. Astra was hoping his first payload trade mission was going well, but instead he had one of the most visually interesting take-off accidents in private spaceflight.
Astra launch drifts then almost recovers
Astra’s launch from Kodiak, Alaska was its first attempt since it nearly reached orbit with a successful test last year. The engines all ignited as expected, but almost as quickly, one of them extinguished and the result was a rocket that nearly tipped over, before floating horizontally for a while, while the remaining engines redistributed power to finally lift the vehicle skyward.
Perhaps it’s more impressive that the Astra rocket didn’t crash and burn right away, even though it was ultimately a failure. The rocket eventually climbed to an altitude of about 160,000 feet before Astra’s flight engineers issued a command to abandon and the vehicle safely returned to Earth after the engines were shut down.
This was a disappointment as the mission was supposed to be Astra’s first commercial flight, as it carried a simulated test payload on behalf of customer the US Space Force. But it was also technically still a test, and the company says it collected a lot of valuable data about the rocket’s roughly 2.5 minutes in flight before the order to abandon was given.
While the newly listed Astra share price has taken a hit in the news, I think the most instructive for the long-term fortunes of the company will be how long it takes to recover from this. incident and try again, and also what will be the result of this follow-up mission.
SpaceX breaks new landing craft
SpaceX’s return to flight was another of its commercial resupply services flights for NASA to the International Space Station, and it went smoothly as usual. The shipment included a new robotic arm for use on the station, as well as some interesting experiments including live ants.
The launch also saw SpaceX use its new autonomous ocean landing ship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” for the first time. This is the third drone ship SpaceX has in its fleet, and everything went smoothly with the landing for a successful recovery of the first stage booster used for the flight.
Blue Origin launches unmanned suborbital flight
Blue Origin launched its 17th New Shepard Reusable Rocket Mission, though it wasn’t as impressive as its last effort: no Jeff Bezos on board. Unlike this first manned space flight, there were no passengers in the capsule during this go-around, but there was a good collection of experiences.
One of them was a component of the NASA Experimental Landing System that will ultimately be used for the agency’s lunar landing vehicle. The interesting subtext here is that Blue Origin is actually suing the agency over its human lander contract award process, which selected SpaceX (and only SpaceX) as its supplier of lunar lander vehicles earlier this year. .
Rocket Lab goes public
Rocket Lab is now a public company, listed on NASDAQ as RKLB after a SPAC merger. It is one of the largest private space companies ever to be made public by any means, and our own Aria Alamalhodaei spoke with Rocket Lab founder and CEO Peter Beck, for information about the company and what it means to be a member of Public Markets.
Meanwhile, ispace creates a larger lunar lander that can traverse lunar nights. Its existing small lander design is not meant to last long in the dark, as its power reserves would run out quickly and very low temperatures are not good for most electronics.
Join us at the TC sessions: Espace in December
Last year, we hosted our first space event, and it went so well that we decided to host it again in 2021. This year, it’s December 14th and 15th, and it will be a fully virtual conference again, so people from all over the world will be able to join us – and you can too.