Astra to make next Space Force orbital launch attempt at the end of August


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WASHINGTON – Small launch vehicle developer Astra will carry a test payload for the US Space Force on its next attempt to reach orbit in August.

The company announced on August 5 that it has signed a launch agreement with the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) for two launches of the company’s Rocket 3 vehicle. The first launch is scheduled for August 27 to September 11 from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on Kodiak Island.

This launch will carry what the company has described only as a “test payload” for the Department of Defense space testing program, which provides flight capability for experimental payloads. The mission bears the designation STP-27AD1. A second launch under the same deal is slated for later this year.

Astra made two orbital launch attempts of its Rocket 3 vehicle last year. Its Rocket 3.1 vehicle encountered issues with its guidance system shortly after takeoff in September 2020, causing its first stage engines to shut down and causing the vehicle to return to Earth. His Rocket 3.2 vehicle nearly reached orbit during a launch in December 2020, but his top-stage engine shut down prematurely when it ran out of fuel.

Although it failed to reach orbit, Astra argued that the company has demonstrated its ability to reach orbit because it only needs minor modifications to reach orbit. “In December 2020, we successfully launched Rocket 3.2 to an altitude of 380 km, demonstrating an orbital launch capability,” the company said on several occasions in a registration statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on July 30.

“We are delighted to launch a multiple launch campaign with the Space Force,” said Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, in a company statement. “This orbital demo launch allows our team to verify many upgrades to our launch system. “

DIU has worked with several developers of small launchers, awarding contracts for the first launches of these companies’ vehicles to demonstrate their capabilities. Other companies that have won DIU launch contracts include ABL Space Systems, Relativity, Rocket Lab, and VOX Space, the government services arm of Virgin Orbit.

In an interview in June, Kemp said the company had more than 50 launches under contract, although at the time the only clients it announced were Planet, whose small imaging satellites will fly on several launches in 2022, and NASA, which awarded the company two launch contracts for smallsat missions. The company wants to begin launches on a monthly basis in the fourth quarter, with long-term plans to launch almost daily.

Astra began trading on the Nasdaq on July 1 after completing a merger with Holicity, a special purpose acquisition company. The merger raised nearly $ 500 million for Astra so the company could expand its launch activities and work on a range of satellites.

Astra’s shares, which trade under the ticker symbol ASTR, closed at $ 15.47 in the days after the merger closed, but fell over the past month, closing at just $ 8.25 per share on August 4. 30% within hours of the deal being announced on August 5.

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