Astra, a California commercial space launch company, had an unusual third attempt at reaching orbit on Saturday when its rocket seemingly recovered from a launch pad mishap only to tumble out of control a couple of minutes later. Astra is a Silicon Valley startup with a potentially lucrative list of military and commercial customers and was carrying a dummy payload (or mass simulator) for the U.S. Air Force from a spaceport on the remote Kodiak Island southwest of Anchorage.

Shortly after ignition, something exploded on the business end of the rocket, blowing it sideways off the launch pad. But instead of blowing, as most of these anomalies end up, the rocket righted itself and staggered into the air. To the upbeat commentary of the company play-by-play announcers, the rocket gathered speed and headed up. But about 150 seconds after the initial drama, the onboard cameras showed the vehicle careering out of control at an altitude of about 20.5 miles before it was intentionally blown up. Astra CEO Chris Kemp said the data captured will help the company prepare for the next attempt and that rocket is already being built.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. “Rocky liftoff”, to say the least. Even when scanning archives of German V2 rockets, I’ve never seen a “lateral liftoff” or “side-slide” like that. At what point did the launch controllers determine the ship was out of control?

    • This was different than German designs because this was a multiple-rocket design.

      One YT commenter said they were shy to abort the launch because of the high cost of cleaning up/repairing the launch site, so let it continue. (Apparently a previous launch site cleanup was expensive.)

  2. Bad when you have a blow out on liftoff, and parts hanging off the side at destruction. Not a pretty picture.

    Also now all that debris all over that beautiful Kodiak Island. Hope they have a trash collection contract.

  3. I will give them credit for a pretty good guidance and control system, if not their engine design. Having that extensive of a malfunction at liftoff and still having a control system capable of stabilizing the rocket is pretty impressive. As Scott Manly described it, the rocket basically hovered at it moved slowly sideways until it burned off enough fuel to begin climbing. Losing control at an altitude of 20+ miles probably resulted from simply running out of fuel. Most boosters expend their fuel load in 2-3 minutes, but usually have the velocity to be a lot higher than 20 miles. Hope their data recovery will be able to tell them what happened.