Astra, a young rocket company based in California, lost a NASA payload of small satellites after a mid-flight failure scuttled its first launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Thursday. Though the cause of the malfunction is still unclear, live onboard footage from the rocket captured it erratically spinning after the fairing of the vehicle was jettisoned.In a tweet, Astra CEO Chris Kemp said he was “deeply sorry” that they could not deliver the payload to orbit.
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“We experienced an issue in today's flight,” Kemp tweeted. “I'm deeply sorry we were not able to deliver our customer's payloads. I'm with the team looking at data, and we will provide more info as soon as we can.”The rocket was carrying four small satellites, known as CubeSats, as part of NASA’s Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) program. Three of the CubeSats carried experiments for university students that involved space weather, drag sails, and quantum gyroscopes, while the fourth was part of a NASA project to optimize CubeSat technologies, according to SpaceNews. As Astra’s rocket tumbled from its trajectory, so did its financial stability. The company’s stock fell 26 percent in the hours after the launch failure, bottoming out at $3.91, reports CNBC. Founded in 2016, Astra aims to compete in a growing field of launch vehicle providers that specialize in delivering small payloads to orbit, as opposed to companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX that are equipped to launch a range of payload sizes. The company successfully launched its first commercial payload into Earth orbit in November 2021, but has also experienced several launch failures over the past year.