Astra rocket launch scrapped on Kodiak Island due to failed sensor

Screen grab from DARPAtv on YouTube.com shows Monday’s launch in Kodiak, which was scuttled before the missile could take off.

An intermittent sensor reading halted the launch of an Astra rocket on Monday in Kodiak, and ended the start-up spaceflight company’s efforts to win a multi-million-dollar launch competition.

Astra officials said at a press conference that the sensor reading was serious enough to warrant scrapping the launch as a safety precaution.

The launch was part of a DARPA challenge to develop new systems for what’s called a “responsive launch” — or launching with little lead time. The ability may be needed during a war, where tactical information and specific needs are available only on short notice, officials say.

DARPA stands for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It’s part of the U.S. Department of Defense and is responsible for developing cutting-edge technologies for use by the military. Much of the agency’s work is highly classified.

Monday’s halted launch was the second try in three days. The launch set for Saturday was cancelled due to high winds and heavy cloud cover, according to space.com.

Astra’s Chris Kemp said the firm plans to try the launch again. But first, they must figure out what triggered the sensor, fix it and get a new launch license, he said.

“And so that probably is not a day or two, it’s more like a week or two, but it’s certainly not a month or two,” Kemp said. “So I think the issue that we saw was very frustrating and it was definitely serious, but also sufficiently intermittent where we all stopped and said, ‘We really need to understand why the sensor would be reading the value that it was reading before we proceed.’ So soon as we root cause it, it will fly again.”

The payload for this launch will be taken off the rocket and returned to the providers, according to Todd Master the DARPA project manager.

Master did not say how much the launch challenge cost, but did say the bulk of the money budgeted was for the prize, and none will be given out since there was no launch.

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Maggie Wall is a reporter at KMXT in Kodiak.

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