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We had a few launches this week, including the first from SpaceX after one of its longest recent pauses in activity. Astra hoped its first commercial payload mission would go well, but instead had one of the most visually interesting takeoff mishaps on private spaceflight.
Astra’s launch drifts and then almost bounces back
Astra’s launch from Kodiak, Alaska, was its first attempt since it nearly reached orbit with a successful test last year. the All the engines fired as planned, but almost as quickly, one of them shut down and the result was a rocket that nearly fell over. before floating horizontally for a time, while the remaining engines redistributed power to finally make the vehicle soar into the sky.
Perhaps more impressive that the Astra rocket doesn’t crash and burn right away, even if this was ultimately a failure. The rocket eventually climbed to an altitude of around 160,000 feet before Astra’s flight engineers issued a suspend command and the vehicle returned safely to Earth after the engines shut down.
This was a disappointment because the mission was intended to be Astra’s first commercial flight, as it was carrying a simulated test payload on behalf of the customer, the US Space Force. But technically it was also a test, and the company says it collected a lot of valuable data from the roughly 2.5 minutes the rocket was flying before the abort order was given.
While Astra’s recently public share price was hit by the news, I think the most instructive for the company’s long-term fortune will be how long it will take to recover from this mishap and try again, and also which one. it will be the result of that follow-up mission.
SpaceX breaks into its new landing barge
SpaceX’s return to flight was another of NASA’s Commercial Refueling Services flights to the International Space Station, and this one ran smoothly as usual. The cargo included a new robotic arm for use at the station, as well as interesting experiments that included 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 spacecraft SpaceX has in its fleet, and all went well with the landing for a successful recovery of the first-stage thruster used for the flight.
Blue Origin launches suborbital unmanned flight
Blue Origin has launched its 17th New Shepard reusable rocket missionAlthough this was not as impressive as his last effort: there is no Jeff Bezos on board. Unlike that first human spaceflight, there were no passengers in the capsule on this tour, but there was a healthy collection of experiments.
One of them was a component of NASA’s experimental landing system that will eventually be used for the agency’s lunar lander. The interesting subtext here is that Blue Origin is suing the agency over its award process for the human lander contract, which selected SpaceX (and only SpaceX) as a supplier of lunar lander vehicles earlier this year.
Rocket Lab goes public
Rocket Lab is now a public company traded under the name RKLB on the NASDAQ after a merger with SPAC. This is one of the largest private space companies that has yet to go public through any medium, and ours. 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 the public markets.
In the meantime, ispace is creating a larger lunar lander that can survive lunar nights. The design of your existing small lander is not meant to last long in the dark, as its power reserves would quickly deplete and the super-low temperatures are not conducive to most electronic devices.
Join us at TC Sessions: Space in December
Last year we had our first dedicated space event, and it went so well that we decided to organize it again in 2021. This year, it will take place on December 14 and 15, and once again it will be a completely virtual conference, so people in everyone can join and you can too.