After what appeared to have been a successful launch from Cape Canaveral on Sunday afternoon, Astra regretfully announced that the rocket failed to deliver its payload into Earth’s orbit.
The pair of satellites aboard the Astra rocket were supposed to help monitor and study the formation and development of tropical cyclones.
"We had a nominal first stage flight. The upper stage shut down early, and we did not deliver the payloads to orbit," Astra said in a tweet minutes after the launch Sunday. "We have shared our regrets with NASA and the payload team."
The team says an investigation will be conducted in order to figure out what went wrong this time.
This is the second time in four months that an Astra rocket has failed to deliver payloads to orbit, citing an electrical issue as the cause of the February mishap.
Astra's Rocket 3.3 launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Base on Feb. 10, carrying four CubeSats under NASA's Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 contract. However, after the rocket reached orbit, cameras on the vehicle showed it spinning out of control, and Astra later said the CubeSats did not deploy.
The investigation, conducted by Astra and the Federal Aviation Administration, found that the rocket nose cone or fairings did not fully open before the upper stage ignition because of an electrical issue.
NASA's TROPICS mission
NASA's TROPICS mission stands for Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats, and the acronym is very literal.
The six CubeSats were built by Blue Canyon Technologies in Boulder, Colorado, and weigh about 10 pounds a piece.
The satellites would rapidly fly over the tropical cyclone belt, taking microwave measurements that will provide details of storm structure, thermodynamics and precipitation throughout the lifecycle of a tropical system.
"TROPICS will give us very frequent views of tropical cyclones, providing insight into their formation, intensification, and interactions with their environment and providing critical data for storm monitoring and forecasting," said Scott Braun, a research meteorologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The satellites will scan every hour, about four to six times more often than is possible with current satellites.
Scientists say the increased scans will help as "We're missing a lot of what's happening in the storm," said Bill Blackwell, principal investigator for the TROPICS.
The increased scans will provide more frequent updates and allow meteorologists to see each storm from beginning to end.
An instrument aboard the satellites, known as a microwave radiometer, will help track water vapor, oxygen, and clouds in the atmosphere, all emitting energy as heat and light. NASA says the amount of heat and light – or radiance – at these frequencies comes from different altitudes, allowing the TROPICS satellites to create three-dimensional images of the cyclones' environments.
"With the TROPICS constellation, we'll have much more frequent observations of tropical cyclones and in wavelengths that can help us understand thermodynamic structure in the eye and in the storm environment," said Blackwell.
Scientists say the frequencies TROPICS uses are also very sensitive to characteristics of ice and clouds, which will help meteorologists study how tropical cyclones develop and intensify.
If the other launches are successful, the remaining satellites will join the TROPICS Pathfinder satellite, which has previously captured images of Hurricane Ida over the U.S., Cyclone Batsirai over Madagascar, and Super Typhoon Mindulle over eastern Japan.
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