Astra Space's First Commercial Launch Attempt Fails After Rocket Hovers Sideways

Astra Space’s (ASTR) rocket failed to get into orbit Saturday evening in what was supposed to be its first commercial launch. That sets up ASTR stock for a drop when trading begins.




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At 6:35 p.m. ET, the 43-foot-high rocket lifted off from Astra’s Kodiak, Alaska, launch site. But immediately after, it drifted sideways for about 20 seconds before ascending to an altitude of 50 milometers.

About two and a half minutes after liftoff, Astra terminated the launch, and the rocket crashed harmlessly into the ocean. The company later said one of the rocket’s five first-stage engines failed a second after liftoff. Still, the guidance system was able to maintain control during flight.

On Friday, Astra aborted an initial launch attempt as the countdown reached zero. The company later said engine thrust wasn’t building up quickly enough.

Two prior test launches fell short of reaching all their goals. Last September, an Astra rocket lifted off, but a problem with its guidance system prevented it from reaching space. In December, another rocket reached space but ran out of fuel just before hitting orbital velocity.

The rocket that crashed on Saturday was carrying a test payload for the Space Force, as part of a contract with the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, and was meant to verify upgrades to its launch system.

Astra designed its rockets to launch satellites weighing 100 pounds, with plans to increase that capacity.

ASTR Stock

Shares fell 9% to 10.62 in late trading on the stock market Friday. ASTR stock had recently found support at the 50-day line and is back above the 200-day line. But the failed launch attempt is likely to trigger a sell-off.

ASTR stock went public on July 1 via special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Holicity, becoming the first publicly traded space company on the Nasdaq.

Among other top space stocks, Virgin Galactic (SPCE) dipped 0.1% late friday, Spire Global (SPIR), a small satellite provider, fell 2.3%. Shares of Rocket Lab (RKLB) which debuted Wednesday, edged 0.1% lower.

Earlier, the space industry saw separate action on Thursday, when Blue Origin launched 18 commercial payloads, including a test of lunar lander sensors for NASA, aboard its New Shepard spacecraft.

But tensions remain between Blue Origin and NASA. The company filed a lawsuit earlier this month over NASA’s decision to award Elon Musk’s SpaceX the sole Human Landing System contract for the Artemis mission to put the first woman on the moon.

Follow Gillian Rich on Twitter for space news and more.

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William Murphy

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