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Space startup Astra’s first orbital rocket launch ends prematurely

The relatively small private rocket industry just got a little larger, if not quite in the way its new entrant hoped. The American startup Astra conducted a brief first orbital launch attempt (via TechCrunch) late on September 11th, with a successful liftoff but quickly losing its Rocket 3.1 test machine during the first-stage engine burn. The guidance system induced “slight oscillation,” Astra said, leading the team to cut the engines during the first-stage burn.

The result was somewhat dramatic, as you can see in the video from Jennifer Culton below. The rocket slammed into the ground not very far from its launchpad near Kodiak, Alaska.

Astra stressed that it didn’t expect to reach orbit with its first rocket. It anticipated three flights before reaching that milestone. The mission still ended sooner than expected, though, and the company positioned the premature end as a chance to collect “valuable experience” and flight data. It remained confident that could can reach orbit as planned.

The follow-up Rocket 3.2 vehicle is already complete, and you should see a launch sometime after Astra spends “several weeks” poring over flight data.

The Alameda-based firm is effectively a competitor to Rocket Lab, with a similar goal of launching payloads into orbit at less cost than usual. To some extent, it’s already successful — Rocket 3.1 took off with a launch system deployed by just six people in under a week. While that won’t necessarily be true of future launches, it shows that you don’t always need extensive ground crews.

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