Astra completes investigation and schedules next orbital launch attempt

Astra has completed the investigation into the terminated launch of LV0006 in August 2021. A… The post Astra completes investigation and schedules next orbital launch attempt appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

Astra completes investigation and schedules next orbital launch attempt

Astra has completed the investigation into the terminated launch of LV0006 in August 2021. A propellant leak caused an engine failure at liftoff, resulting in insufficient thrust to achieve orbit. Design changes have been implemented to address the anomaly for Astra’s next rocket, LV0007.

The launch window for LV0007 opens on October 27 and continues through October 31. Additional launch opportunities are available from November 5 to November 12.

LV0006 Investigation Results

On August 28, Astra conducted a test flight of Rocket 3.3, the latest version of their small satellite launch vehicle. Designated LV0006, the rocket ignited all five of its Delphin first stage engines and lifted off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska.

During liftoff, kerosene fuel and liquid oxygen both leaked from the propellant supply system adjacent to the rocket. This system is designed to quickly disconnect and seal when the rocket launches. When LV0006 lifted off, these leaked propellants mixed and became trapped beneath the interface between the rocket and the ground equipment.

These mixed propellants were subsequently ignited by the exhaust of the first stage engines, which caused an over-pressurization that severed the electrical connection which controls the fuel pump. This caused the shutdown of one Delphin on the first stage less than one second after liftoff.

This shutdown created an asymmetrical thrust, which caused the vehicle to tip sideways and slide away from the launch pad. The four remaining engines gimballed to straighten the rocket, but with only four engines worth of thrust so early in the flight, reaching orbit was not possible.

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  • After two and a half minutes, the vehicle had cleared the pad, but deviated significantly from its planned trajectory, prompting the termination of thrust on the remaining engines and the end of the flight.

    There were a couple of prior upgrades to the Rocket 3 series which were validated by the flight of LV0006. When LV0005, the one and only Rocket 3.2 to fly, fell just short of achieving orbit in December 2020, a propellant mixture management issue was to blame. For LV0006, Astra implemented closed-loop control of the vehicle’s propellants, and this system performed nominally during launch.

    Additionally, the software loaded into the rocket’s Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GNC) system was updated with new code and algorithms after Rocket 3.2. The GNC system proved its worth with LV0006, correcting for asymmetrical thrust at liftoff and achieving two and a half minutes of flight.

    As with all test flights, a wealth of other thermal and acoustic data was also collected for analysis and future improvements to Astra launch vehicles.

    “Data from the two-and-a-half-minute flight provided valuable insights that we have incorporated into LV0007 and future launch vehicles,” said Chris Kemp, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Astra. “Our team is looking forward to returning to flight and learning more about our launch system – consistent with our launch and learn philosophy.”

    A Delphin first stage engine is hotfired at Astra’s headquarters in Alameda, California – via Astra/John Kraus

    Following the investigation, multiple corrective actions have been taken to prevent this type of anomaly from occurring again. First, the locations of the ground equipment interfaces which feed fuel and oxidizer to the rocket have been moved. Now, even if both propellants do leak, they will no longer mix with one another.

    In order to prevent leaks from developing in the first place, the propellant supply system has been modified and re-qualified. This includes removing the cover which created the confined space which trapped the mixed propellants on LV0006.

    Finally, verification processes for designs and operations were both improved. With the implementation of these changes, Astra is now targeting another orbital launch attempt this month.

    Future Astra launch schedule

    LV0007 is the second Rocket 3.3 vehicle and will make Astra’s next orbital launch attempt. Like Astra’s previous test flights, the mission will be conducted from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska. Also, like LV0006, the mission will carry a test payload for the United States Space Force’s Space Test Program, a mission designated STP-27AD2.

    LV0006 conducts a hotfire test prior to shipment to Kodiak, Alaska, for launch – via Astra

    The launch window for LV0007 consists of two segments. The first stretches from October 27 to October 31, and the second from November 5 to November 12. Should additional time be needed to conduct the launch, Astra would coordinate a new launch window with the range.

    LV0007 will be Astra’s fourth orbital launch attempt, building on two suborbital test flights with Rocket 1 and Rocket 2, a ground failure with Rocket 3.0, and failed orbital launches with Rocket 3.1, 3.2, and the first 3.3 (LV0006). Successfully achieving orbit will set the stage for Astra to begin delivering customer satellites to orbit, including payloads for the US Space Force and NASA.

    While plans are subject to change pending the results of LV0007’s flight, Astra’s Thomas Williams stated during the Small Payload Ride Share Association Symposium this month that the company’s second launch site will debut later this year. Astra is planning to utilize many launch sites, combined with high rocket production cadence, to provide daily access to orbit.

    (Lead photo of LV0006 on the pad in Kodiak –  via Astra)

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    Ship 20 prepares for Static Fire – New Raptor 2 factory rises

    The new Raptor factory is now rising out of the ground at SpaceX’s Rocket Development… The post Ship 20 prepares for Static Fire – New Raptor 2 factory rises appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

    Ship 20 prepares for Static Fire – New Raptor 2 factory rises

    The new Raptor factory is now rising out of the ground at SpaceX’s Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas. Tasked with supplying Raptor 2 engines to the Starship Program, SpaceX is laying the foundations for its rapidly reusable rocket.

    With the Launch Tower in the process of gaining its “Mechazilla” stacking and catching arms – a key part of recovering Super Heavy and Starships, along with their engines – numerous future vehicles are being staged at the Production Site ahead of a busy 2022.

    The immediate focus is on Ship 20, with its Static Fire test currently scheduled for this week.

    Ship 20 and Booster 4:

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  • Following a successful proof testing campaign for Ship 20, the next milestone will be loading LOX (Liquid Oxygen) and CH4 (Liquid Methane) for a Static Fire test.

    The fine details of Ship 20’s testing have not been revealed, with this vehicle being the first to sport three Raptor Vacuum (RVac) engines. To date, RVacs have only been fired up individually at McGregor.

    The upcoming test – currently set for No Earlier Than (NET) Wednesday and still subject to change  – will likely involve the three sea-level Raptors.

    Ship 20’s full engine set involves RC69, RC73, and RC78, with RC standing for Raptor Center. RV4, RV5, and RV6 are the RVacs assigned to Ship 20.

    RVac installation was taking place on Monday.

    During the initial Static Fire test, one key test objective will focus on the Thermal Protection System (TPS), which suffered a minor liberation caused by the Header Tank venting. The vibrations of the engine’s firing will provide additional data points on how well the TPS has been applied and secured to the vehicle.

    Booster 4 is waiting in line for its own proof testing and Static Fires, although this is not likely to occur until November.

    With its 29 engines, Booster 4’s Static Fire campaign will likely involve several ignitions with an increasing number of engines.

    Booster 3, 4 and Ship 20 at the OLS, via Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

    The Super Heavy was removed from its Orbital Launch Site (OLS) mount to allow for the installation of “Mechazilla” hardware to the Launch Tower.

    Mechazilla:

    Progress towards giving the Launch Tower its arms has been made over recent days, with the carriage system moved over to a new staging point at the Orbital Launch Site (OLS).

    This set the scene for the lift and move of the first “chopstick” arm for installation onto the carriage. The second arm was also moved over on Monday.

    Once both arms are secured to the carriage, the entire system will be hoisted onto the Tower. This event will set the stage for its first operation, likely to involve Booster 4 being lifted onto the mount.

    Should the system require additional work, the LR 11350 crane – nicknamed “Frankencrane” by SpaceX employees – could still be used.

    While Booster 4 and Ship 20’s return points will be into the ocean, Elon Musk hopes for the first catch to occur during Booster 5’s return to the launch site.

    Future Vehicles:

    Booster 5 is already being stacked inside the High Bay, following the usual Starbase path of having the next vehicle ready to head to the launch site soon after the previous has launched.

    Booster 5 in the High Bay via Mary (@bocachicagal) for NSF

    Its grid fins have already arrived and are being prepared for installation. This process took place after the Booster completed stacking operations during Booster 4’s High Bay processing flow.

    Ship 21 is making good progress around the Production Area, with sections being prepared for stacking, a process that will take place inside the since-vacated Mid Bay. The rollout of GSE-8 to the Tank Farm has created room for Ship 21’s stacking to occur.

    With numerous sections sporting a full coat of TPS, the nosecone for Ship 21 is already following that same path, with tiles being applied inside one of the “Big Tents.”

    Sections for Ship 22 have also been observed, with the Common Dome Section spotted inside Tent 1.

    Meanwhile, the Thrust Pucks for boosters down the pecking order have also been arriving into Starbase, including the first to host the expanded capability of 33 Raptors.

    McGregor Factory:

    All these Raptor engines arrive at Starbase after having been processed at SpaceX’s McGregor test site.

    Currently, the engines are assembled at SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California, before taking a road trip to Texas for hot-fire testing on one of five available test stands.

    All five Raptor Test Stands (Tripod, Original Stand (2 bays) and New Stand (2 bays) via Gary Blair for NSF/L2

    Elon Musk had already noted that Raptor production would increase, aided by a new factory at the McGregor facility, allowing Hawthorne to focus on RVacs and new design evolutions for the Methalox powerhouse.

    This allows McGregor to produce the main stock of Raptor 2 engines to cater for a large number of Boosters and Starships, each requiring 36 Raptor 2s in total, based on the 33 on the Booster and three on the Starship (along with three RVacs).

    With groundwork observed by Gary Blair over recent weeks (via his plane passes for NSF/L2), the latest pass noted the framework of the factory is now being assembled.

    Raptor 2 Factory via Gary Blair for NSF/L2

    While this factory will still be some time away from assembling Raptor 2s, Hawthorne is already building the streamlined version of the Raptor, with the McGregor test stands being worked on in preparation for test firings.

    Centralizing Raptor production and testing at McGregor will also streamline the flow of Raptors to Starbase, removing the California-to-Texas leg for all engines except for the RVacs.

    Also, this production increase provided a fascinating scenario of how many Raptors SpaceX will require in circulation, given the full reusability of the Starship system. A large stock of Raptors points to a huge fleet of vehicles, as Musk has always envisioned.

    Photos and videos provided by Nic Ansuini (@nicansuini) and Mary (@bocachicagal). Additional information and article assistance provided by the NSF (L2 Level) Discord.

    For live updates, follow NASASpaceFlight’s Twitter account and the NSF Starship Forum Sections.

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