Astra is preparing to launch the ELaNa 41 mission for NASA no earlier than February 7, the company’s first flight from Space Launch Complex 46 (SLC-46) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
The launch vehicle for this mission will be LV0008, the third Rocket 3.3 vehicle, and the targeted launch window is between 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM EST (18:00 to 21:00 UTC). The mission’s first launch attempt was scrubbed on Saturday due to a range equipment failure which could not be resolved before the end of the launch window.
The mission will be the first for Astra to deploy satellites into orbit, lifting four CubeSats into a 500-kilometer altitude, 41-degree inclination Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The CubeSats are built by three different universities and the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This will be the third launch of Rocket 3.3 with the last mission, STP-27AD2, successfully reaching orbit for the first time.
ELaNa stands for Educational Launch of Nanosatellites and is an initiative created by NASA to help students get practice in space-related fields. As part of the program, the students design, assemble, and test payloads together with NASA. The mission is also referred to as Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) Demo 2, part of NASA’s program to utilize dedicated small launch vehicles.
The first payload is the Ionospheric Neutron Content Analyzer (INCA), built by New Mexico State University, Las Cruces. Its focus will be the study of the neutron spectrum in LEO to improve space weather predictions and models and help to predict dangerous events for spacecraft. It features a newly developed spectrometer, which was designed by NASA´s Goddard Space Flight Center, in cooperation with the University of New Hampshire. It masses 3.8 kilograms.
Another payload is the BAMA-1 technology demonstrator, developed by the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. The goal of BAMA-1 is to demonstrate a rapid deorbit capability of a satellite. For this, it will deploy a drag sail that will increase the atmospheric drag of the payload, and thus, help the satellite to de-orbit much quicker.
This technology could be used on operational satellites in the future as well, so they could deorbit faster at the end of their lifetime and reduce the amount of space debris that could endanger satellites, space stations, and other space assets. If this mission proves the concept, a second mission, called BAMA-2, might be planned at a later date.
The third payload onboard is QubeSat of the University of California, Berkeley. QubeSat is another technology demonstrator that plans to observe the effects of space on a quantum gyroscope. This could help a spacecraft in the future to accurately determine its attitude.
At last, the R5-S1 payload, developed by the Johnson Space Center, will fly on this mission. Its goal is to demonstrate the practical use of commercial off-the-shelf components for in-space inspection. Its second goal is to demonstrate the ability to build cost-effective CubeSats with cheap parts.
The launch vehicle for the ELaNa 41 mission is LV0008, the third vehicle of Astra’s version 3.3 rocket. LV0008 was preceded by multiple test flights, including the Rocket 3.1 vehicle which flew in September 2020 from Kodiak, Alaska. After a guidance issue shortly after liftoff, that flight was terminated for range safety.
The next launch was Rocket 3.2. While it failed to successfully reach orbit in its test flight in December 2020, it was the first Astra rocket to reach space.
The first flight of Rocket 3.3, which is also the version to be used for this flight, was designated LV0006 and conducted in August 2021. After an engine failure right at liftoff, the vehicle could not provide the required thrust for the planned flight profile and thus was terminated about 150 seconds into flight.
On its second flight, Rocket 3.3 successfully reached orbit on November 19, 2021. The LV0007 vehicle managed to carry a test payload for the United States Space Force into the desired orbit. The payload was intentionally not released on that flight.
Article first appeared on NASASpaceflight.com