According the success/failure ratio on the Seradata SpaceTrak database, the Astra Rocket 3 series cannot be called a reliable launch vehicle. The Astra Rocket 3 series failed five times out of seven attempts, while the latest version failed three out of five times. And Astra Space, its developer and operator, realises it. The firm has decided to stand down the Astra Rocket 3.0 series to concentrate on a larger successor rocket dubbed the Astra Rocket 4 series. This will fly in 2024. Customers’ launches for their satellites, including four TROPICS satellites for NASA, will be transferred to this new rocket.
The latest launch failure caused the loss of two TROPICS satellites for NASA on 12 June. This was due to a second stage engine shut down. Observation cameras imaged a puff from the engine and then observed the stage begin to tumble. The result was that two hurricane monitoring TROPICS 1 and TROPICS 2, were lost as neither they, nor their attached second stage achieved orbital velocity and fell back into the Atlantic Ocean, close to the coast of West Africa. It is believed that the upper stage ran out of fuel prematurely.
While the launch before that was successful, this followed a failure in February which lost four small satellites, INCA, BAMA 1, QUBESAT and R5-S1 which were lost due to a clamshell fairing (which hold the second stage within it) failing to open properly, due to a separation mechanisms signal timing and damage issue (two harness channels had been miswired). While Astra Space has over US$200 million in hand, it is continuing to bleed money. The company, which reported a net loss of $82.3 million for the second quarter.