DARPA Challenge Launch Ends As Astra Postponed Its Rocket Liftoff For The Second Time

The weather has interfered with a possibly prize-winning liftoff. Astra, a spaceflight startup, had intended to take off its first orbital mission on February 29 from Alaska’s Kodiak Island. Bad weather, such as dense clouds and powerful winds, changed all the plans. The attempt was rescheduled for the following day. The launch is part of the $12 million DARPA Launch Challenge.

The project wants to encourage the production of private American spacecraft that can transport small military satellites to orbit at fewer costs. So, if Astra’s mission, equipped with four small payloads, succeeds, the company will receive $2 million. An additional $10 million will be offered if a second liftoff would be achieved.

The timeframe for Astra to launch its first rocket

The competition rules offer Astra 14 days to liftoff mission no. 1, as computed from the opening of a DARPA-announced gap on February 17. On February 29, it marked day no. 13, which means that March 1 could have been Astra’s lucky day.

DARPA, however, might offer Astra some extra time to repay for the lousy weather, which has not become well. Only 4 of the 13 days to date have been “green” from a weather approach, meaning environmental conditions presented no issues at all. The other days were rated both as marginal or as “red.”

“Tomorrow’s looking like a red day (March 1). We’re going to get through today’s operation, see how that goes, and then assess from there,” explained Todd Master, the DARPA mission manager.

DARPA Challenge Launch finished without a winner, at the moment

That operation Todd Master talked about is a part of the standard liftoff-day countdown work with Astra’s 38-11.6 meters tall Rocket 3.0. The contest rules call for Astra to develop mission no. 2 until March 18. That date, however, assumes no weather-postpones compensation.

Unfortunately, the liftoff, postponed from March 1 to March 2, was also unsuccessful. A technical glitch forced the engineers to stop the countdown at 53 seconds.

“We saw some data that concerned us, and we decided it would be better to scrub the launch and try again another day because if the data was correct, it could have definitely caused a problem with the flight,” said Chris Kemp, co-founder and chief executive of Astra. However, Astra might attempt to finish the mission in another day and win the DARPA Challenge Launch.

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