Rocket launch was success, until it wasn’t


On Friday evening a rocket designed and built in less than a week left the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island and soared as expected — until it didn’t, and ended in a spectacular crash.

Astra’s launch went perfectly at first. Photo: Astra blog

About 20 seconds into the flight, the rocket started oscillating and the mission was scrubbed, leading to the vehicle returning to earth where it met its fate in a fiery explosion, which was quickly contained.

Video of the impact was taken by Eric Van Dongen, who had been deer hunting nearby with his father Marc Van Dongen.

“Rocket launch in Kodiak, Alaska. Pretty cool,” Eric narrated. As the rocket fell back to earth, Marc can be heard saying it was heading to the place where the two had been hunting. After impact, a powerful shock wave boomed across them and the others who were gathered to watch.

“Holy mackerel, that’s unbelievable,” Marc can be heard exclaiming.

Eric Van Dongen Facebook video

The company that built the rocket says the launch was a success nonetheless. On its blog, Astra co-founders Chris Kemp and Adam London wrote:

“We’re excited to have our first orbital attempt under our belt! As we’ve always said, we expect it to take three flights to make it to orbit. Tonight, we saw a beautiful launch! Preliminary data review indicates the rocket performed very well. Early in the flight, our guidance system appears to have introduced some slight oscillation into the flight, causing the vehicle to drift from its planned trajectory leading to a commanded shutdown of the engines by the flight safety system. We didn’t meet all of our objectives, but we did gain valuable experience, plus even more valuable flight data. This launch sets us well on our way to reaching orbit within two additional flights, so we’re happy with the result.

“We are incredibly proud of what the team accomplished today. This was our first orbital launch attempt, and the first flight of a rocket designed from the ground-up for low cost mass production and highly-automated launch operations. The entire launch system was deployed by six people in less than a week – completely unprecedented.”

The company will be poring through launch data and making adjustments for the next launch. Astra began business in 2016 and by 2020 had built the Astra Space Port on Kodiak at the Pacific Spaceport Complex.

“We’ll be back to the pad before you know it,” they wrote.


    • Marla – no, this was widely shared on social media and that’s where we saw it. Pretty impressive. – sd

  1. This is America 2020. A thing is launched into the sky with the expectation it will orbit the planet earth. It dies shortly after lift off and drops to the ground, causing an awesome explosion. The guys doing the deal announce it was a tremendous success and they are happy. Lying is not only normal, it’s respected.

    • You don’t understand progress. Mankind blows things up on purpose to learn things. Pressure limits, telemetry etc. Now we land rockets on postage stamps. There is a process. Stop being so negative.

    • Apparently you don’t understand aerospace very well. The only way you learn to fly regularly and successfully is by blowing things up and crashing things. That way you learn the important things not to do. SpaceX was almost out of business when it began following multiple failures. I think the 4th attempt was successful. Had it not been, they would have been out of business. This test was successful because they got off the pad, something that is not always done.

      There’s an old joke about how to get to be a millionaire in space. Answer: Start out as a billionaire.

      Final observation: Did you know that the development of air to air refueling in the late 1950s was a deadly enterprise. Nearly 60 lost their lives figuring it out. 60 years later, we do it regularly. Cheers –

    • Elon Musk and SpaceX blew up a LOT of rockets before they had a successful launch. Now, they are reusing their rockets regularly. Had they not have had the failures, they would not have known where to improve reliability.

    • I don’t know how old you are, but I’m old enough to remember the early space flight program in the Fifties and into the Sixties; we blew up a lot of rockets. I’m sure the Soviets did too, but we blew ours up on live radio and TV and they didn’t.

      We lost a lot of steamboats in the mid-19th Century, a lot of train wrecks killed a lot of train crew and a lot of passengers until the early 20th Century, early air travel scattered aluminum and bodies all over the Country. Developing new and complex technology is a dangerous activity.

  2. Most people don’t understand that scientific progress is buttressed by a steep learning curve of failures.
    So I don’t have a problem with the failure, presuming, of course, that an area warning is provided to the public of possible failure with attendant pieces falling from the sky, or causing explosion on the ground.

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