On 20 November 2021 at 06:16:00, Astra managed to launch its first successful mission to orbit. Rocket 3.3 (LV0007), carrying a demonstration payload from the US Department of Defence was launched from PSCA, after several unsuccessful launches during 2021. The company's stocks surged by as much as 42 % after this feat [1].

Astra has previously manufactured launch vehicles for both commercial and military customers. These launch vehicles are labelled "Rocket 3".

The first two rockets, Rocket 1.0 and Rocket 2.0 were test vehicles without payloads. Although their only launches were reported to be failures,[2][3] Astra reported they were successful in reaching space on their third Rocket 3 launch but the upper stage did not make orbit due to a wrong fuel and oxidizer mixture ratio. The company concluded that this met their goal for the mission and on their next flight will fly a commercial payload.[4] Astra's next flight on 28 August 2021 with their fourth Rocket 3 vehicle, Rocket 3.3 (LV0006) carrying a payload for the United States Space Force, failed to reach space after suffering an engine failure at T+1 second.[5]

Future rocket variants currently in development include Rocket 4 (an upgraded version of Rocket 3) and Rocket 5 (a suborbital point-to-point delivery variant of Rocket 3).[6][7]

Rocket 1

Rocket 1 prior to launch at PSCA on 12 July 2018.
Rocket 1 prior to launch at PSCA on 12 July 2018.

Rocket 1 was a single test vehicle designed between October 2016, when Astra was formed, and March 2018 when the first launch window opened.[8] This vehicle utilized five first stage "Delphin" engines. While second stage engine "Aether" was still being developed, an upper stage (second stage) mass simulator was used in its place. The exterior dimensions of this vehicle were similar to Rocket 3 due to the size limitation of fitting within a standard shipping container. A number of unsuccessful launch attempts were made between the initial window in March 2018 and July 2018 before the vehicle lifted off in July 2018. At the time, the company had been commonly referred to as "Stealth Space Company" in various media outlets.

Launch

At approximately 22:00 UTC (15:00 PDT) on 20 July 2018, Rocket 1 left the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) Launch Pad 2 for the company's first sub-orbital launch attempt. The foggy conditions made it difficult to observe the launch according to local reporters.[9] After approximately 27 seconds of propelled flight, the vehicle suffered an anomaly and returned to the ground, within the perimeter fence of the spaceport. Following uncertainty regarding the launch, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stated: "The Astra Space, Inc. launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska at Kodiak Island on 20 July 2018 experienced a mishap. It was an FAA-licensed launch, and the agency is reviewing the event".[9] No injuries were reported. Craig Campbell, President of Alaska Aerospace, told SpaceNews on 27 July 2018:

"Our customer has requested we not discuss their operations with the press. I can confirm that a launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska occurred on Friday, July 20th and that the customer is very pleased with the outcome of the launch. While a post-launch team is reviewing the results of the launch, I can state that there was no material damage to our facilities as a result of this launch, we look forward to working with this customer to support their next launch from Alaska".[9]

Rocket 2

Rocket 2 was launched at approximately 30 November 2018 at 03:00 UTC (20:00 PST on 29 November 2018) from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska, Launch Pad 2, the same used for Rocket 1. After approximately 30 seconds of powered flight, the vehicle aborted, resulting in a return to the launch site. Sources observing the launch reported the vehicle landed slightly outside the perimeter fence, south of the launch pad, but on spaceport property.

This launch had no customer and acted as a suborbital test flight using a mass simulator for the second stage, as Aether was still in development. There was no payload on board.[10] The mission planned to fly on an azimuth of 195° from the spaceport, but the license did not disclose the planned altitude or downrange distance for the mission.[3] No injuries were reported.[3]

Rocket 3

Rocket 3
orbital launch vehicle developed by Astra Space
Rocket 3.0 being prepared to launch.
UseOrbital launch vehicle
ManufacturerAstra
Country of originUnited States
Cost per launchUS$2.5 million [11][12]
Size
Height11.6 m (38 ft)
Capacity
Payload to SSO
Altitude500 km (310 mi)
Mass25–150 kg (55–331 lb)
Associated rockets
Comparable
Launch history
StatusActive
Launch sitesPSCA
Total launches4
Success(es)1
Failure(s)3
First stage
Powered by5 Delphin
Maximum thrustc. 32,500 lbf [13]
PropellantRP-X/LOX
Second stage
Engines1 Aether
Thrust740 lbf vacuum [13]
PropellantRP-X/LOX
Astra Rocket Engine — Delphin 3.0
Astra Rocket Engine — Delphin 3.0

The Rocket 3 is a family of 11.6 m (38 ft) launch vehicles that have a payload capacity of 25–150 kg (55–331 lb) to a 500 km (310 mi) Sun-synchronous orbit.[14] It consists of two stages. The first stage has 5 electric-pump-fed engines called "Delphin" with 6,500 lbf (29,000 N) of thrust each.[15][13] The second stage has one pressure-fed engine called "Aether" with 740 lbf (3,300 N) (vacuum) of thrust.[13]

Rocket 3.0

Launch of Rocket 3.1
Launch of Rocket 3.1

The first Rocket 3, "1 of 3" or "Rocket 3.0", completed a static fire test at Castle Airport, California. It was planned to launch from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) with attempted launches in late February and early March 2020, with the last launch attempt on 2 March 2020, as part of the DARPA Launch Challenge.[16] Three CubeSats for the U.S. Department of Defense and the University of South Florida, along with a space-based beacon designed to aid in space traffic management, were slated to ride into orbit on "1 of 3". On 2 March 2020, DARPA and Astra officials said the Prometheus CubeSat, the University of South Florida's two Articulated Reconnaissance and Communications Expedition (ARCE) nanosatellites, and the space-based radio beacon payload were to be removed from the rocket after the end of the Launch Challenge. Astra had failed to launch within the DARPA Launch Challenge's launch window; launch preparations continued regardless for the test flight.[15][17]

On 23 March 2020, "1 of 3" was destroyed by fire during launch preparations. The incident at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island occurred while Astra was detanking fuel during a pre-launch countdown dress rehearsal.[18] A valve on Rocket 3.0 remained open.[18] This incident was first reported by KMXT, a local public radio station.[19] Astra CEO Chris Kemp confirmed no payloads were on-board Astra's rocket at the time of the incident.[20]

Rocket 3.1

A second launch attempt was planned for no earlier than 31 August 2020 at 02:00 UTC using the second Rocket 3 vehicle, Rocket 3.1 (formerly "2 of 3"), but was delayed due to unfavorable weather conditions.[21][18] The next launch window began on 11 September 2020. The launch occurred on 12 September 2020 at 03:19 UTC. The launch failed during first stage flight, when Rocket 3.1 experienced an anomaly and fell back to Earth shortly after,[22] and exploded on impact in a part of the spaceport that was cleared of personnel before launch. However, many public viewers captured footage of the launch and failure with the rocket slamming into the ground creating an explosion and cloud. Astra officials said on 12 September 2020, a software fix will likely resolve a guidance system problem that caused the first orbital-class rocket to begin drifting off course soon after liftoff, prompting a range safety officer to terminate the flight. The result was not unexpected after Astra officials set modest goals for the test flight. The rocket carried no payload. The company said it planned a series of three test launches before it expects to reach orbit with its commercial rocket. Astra confirmed that Rocket 3.2, the third Rocket 3, was almost complete and would take flight after data review and making necessary changes.[23]

Rocket 3.2

On 15 December 2020 at roughly 20:55 UTC, Astra launched its third Rocket 3 vehicle, called Rocket 3.2 (formerly "3 of 3").[24][25] The rocket successfully passed the Kármán Line and reached its target orbital altitude of 390 kilometers, a first for Astra. However, due to issues with the upper stage's fuel mixture, the rocket failed to achieve orbit.[26][27] The company declared the flight a success, arguing that their objective for the test flight was to achieve a successful cut-off of the first stage's main engine, which was achieved.[27] The rocket did not carry any satellites or other payloads, as the launch was a demonstration mission.[26]

Rocket 3.3

On 28 August 2021 at 22:35 UTC, Astra launched its fourth Rocket 3 vehicle, Rocket 3.3 (serial number LV0006). The flight carried an instrumentation payload for the United States Space Force under the Space Test Program, and a separation of payload from the launch vehicle was not planned. Shortly after liftoff, a single engine failure caused the vehicle to drift horizontally several tens of meters sideways off the launch pad before ascending vertically. The vehicle deviated from its licensed trajectory and range safety terminated the flight at approximately T+02:28. The rocket reached a peak altitude of 50 km (31 mi) before crashing into the ocean downrange of the launch site. No injuries or damage to property were reported from this incident.[28][5] Astra determined a small propellant leakage from the launcher fueling system caused impacts leading to a single engine failing. This triggered the hover during liftoff and left the rocket without enough thrust to reach orbit.[29]

On 20 November 2021, Astra's Rocket 3.3 vehicle (serial number LV0007) successfully reached orbit after launching from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) carrying the demonstration payload STP-27AD2 for the United States Space Force.[30]

Future Rocket variants

Rocket 4

Rocket 4 is currently under development. It is an upgraded variant of Rocket 3 with new higher performance first stage engines and a payload capacity of several hundred kilograms to low Earth orbit. Astra aims to eventually achieve a weekly launch cadence with this vehicle. As of June 2021, the first Rocket 4 launch vehicle is expected to fly in 2022.[6]

Rocket 5

In September 2020, Astra submitted a proposal to the Air Force's AFWERX program titled, "Responsive Launch Enabled by Astra's Rocket 5.0". Rocket 5 will be a variant of the Rocket 3 dedicated to suborbital point-to-point delivery, featuring a modified second stage between the Rocket 3's first and upper stages.[7]

Launch history

0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
2018
2019
2020
2021
  •   Failure
  •   Loss before launch
  •   Partial Failure
  •   Success
  •   Planned
Flight Date / time (UTC) Rocket Launch site Payload Payload mass Orbit Customer Outcome[Note 1]
1 20 July 2018[2] Rocket 1 PSCA, Pad 2[31] Mass Simulator Un­known Suborbital Test Flight Failure (Astra declared success)[32]
P120 mission for a commercial customer.[33] The FAA reported an unknown mishap occurred during the launch;[2] Astra later noted the launch was successful.[32]
2 29 November 2018 [3] Rocket 2 PSCA, Pad 2[34] Mass Simulator Un­known Suborbital Test Flight Failure (Astra declared success)[32]
Launch for a commercial customer.[35] Flight ended earlier than planned, likely due to engine failure.[3][32] Rather than including an active second stage, this launch carried an "upper stage mass simulator".[3]
N/A 23 March 2020 Rocket 3.0 PSCA, Pad 3B[36] N/A N/A LEO DARPA Launch Challenge Precluded
"1 of 3". Initially intended to be part of the DARPA Launch Challenge, but failed to launch within the challenge's launch window due to an issue with a sensor for the guidance, navigation, and control systems.[37][38] The rocket was reused for the next launch without DARPA involvement, but on 23 March 2020, a fire occurred on the launch pad prior to launch, destroying the rocket.[39]
3 12 September 2020
03:19[40]
Rocket 3.1 PSCA, Pad 3B None [41] N/A LEO None Failure
Formerly "2 of 3". Second attempt to launch a Rocket 3 for the first time. Initially intended to be the second of two launches for the DARPA Launch Challenge.[18] 30 seconds after lift off engines were shut down by the range safety officer.[40]
4 15 December 2020
20:55[42]
Rocket 3.2 [18] PSCA, Pad 3B None [43] N/A LEO None Failure [44]
Formerly "3 of 3". First Astra rocket to pass the Kármán Line and reach its target orbital altitude of 390 kilometers. Narrowly failed to reach stable orbit due to issues with the upper stage propellant mixture ratio,[26][27] but exceeded the company's expectations with an otherwise-successful climb into near-orbital space from Kodiak Island, Alaska.[45]
5 28 August 2021
22:35 [46]
Rocket 3.3 / LV0006 [47][48] PSCA, Pad 3B STP-27AD1 LEO U.S. Space Force Failure
First commercial Rocket 3 launch, and first of two demonstration launches for the U.S. Space Force.[49] An engine failure shortly after liftoff caused the rocket to drift sideways off the launch pad before ascending vertically. At approximately T+02:28, range safety ordered engine shutdown, terminating the flight.[50][28] A fueling system propellant leak was determined to be the root cause of the problem.[29]
6 20 November 2021
06:16:00 [51]
LV0007 [52] PSCA, Pad 3B STP-27AD2 LEO U.S. Space Force Success
Second demonstration launch for the U.S. Space Force. This is Astra's first undisputed success.[49]
7 December 2021[53] LV0008 CC, SLC-46 BAMA-1, CURIE A/B, INCA, QubeSat, R5-S1 LEO NASA Planned
NASA Venture Class Launch Services 2 (VCLS 2) Mission One, officially known as VCLS Demo-2A.[54] The ELaNa 41 mission, consisting of five CubeSats, will launch on this flight.[55][56]
March 2022 [57][58] Kwajalein Atoll TROPICS 19 kg (42 lb)[59] LEO NASA Planned
First of three launches for the TROPICS constellation. Series will launch six satellites in total.
April 2022 [57][58] Kwajalein Atoll TROPICS 19 kg (42 lb) LEO NASA Planned
Second of three launches for the TROPICS constellation.
May 2022 [57][58] Kwajalein Atoll TROPICS 19 kg (42 lb) LEO NASA Planned
Final of three launches for the TROPICS constellation.
Q2 2022 [60] PSCA, Pad 3B Lemur-2 × ? LEO Spire Global Planned
Contract with Spire Global for an unknown number of launches and satellites.
2022 [61] PSCA, Pad 3B Flock-4 × ? LEO Planet Labs Planned
Multi-launch contract with Planet Labs.
2022 [61] PSCA, Pad 3B Flock-4 × ? LEO Planet Labs Planned
Multi-launch contract with Planet Labs.

Notes

  1. ^ For consistency, the outcome of the flight is measured by whether the rocket achieves a stable orbit. The company may have particular objectives for test flights that are more or less strenuous than reaching orbit.

References

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