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NASA's TROPICS Satelite Launch Ends in Disaster, Whole Mission Might Be in Doubt

NASA may consist of some of the best minds in all of science, engineering, and rocket technology. But even they, at the end of the day, are still human beings. So to say, they're capable of the occasional failure.
NASA Tropics 6 photos
Such was the case on June 12th with the first launch of the Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission. (Man, what a mouthful).

This mission consists of a series of six small satellites of the 3U CubeSat family. Over the course of three launches between June and July of this year, this mission was intended to gather data regarding the temperature and moisture of tropical storms over the surface of the Earth.

Using new advancements in microwave radiometer technology, scientists hoped to gain new insight into how the effects of climate change affected the intensity and long-term sustainability of tropical weather systems in a level of detail not possible until the present day. Had all three launches gone without a hitch, the mission was to have been overseen by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Alas, on the morning of June 12th, this was not the case. Though the Astra Rocket 3.3 booster vehicle carrying the first series of cube satellites achieved orbital velocity successfully, the entire mission was turned on its head when its first stage engine suffered a premature cutoff.

With little means of getting the spacecraft back on track, the booster and its valuable payload failed to reach orbit. From there, the vehicle began to spin out of control, all but dooming the launch to failure.

Instead, the entire package, satellites, booster and all, re-entered the Earth's atmosphere approximately an hour or so after its launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It's currently unknown if this launch failure puts the entire future of the mission in doubt.

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