Small launch vehicle startup, Astra, has joined the ranks of companies sending vehicles up into space. The California startup launched its second orbital flight yesterday, Wednesday 15 December, just before 16:00 PM EST from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska.
Astra's 38-foot-tall (12 meters) Rocket 3.2 hit a bunch of milestones during its flight yesterday, most notably shooting through its first-stage engine burn, successfully separating its second-stage, and soaring over 62 miles high in the air (100 km) past the Kármán line.
Rocket 3.2 didn't carry any payloads during this test flight, and it's not yet been confirmed whether its booster actually reached orbit — its final destination — regardless, the launch was considered a huge success by the team.
Astra is a small launch startup based in California's East Bay, which develops rockets meant to give small spacecraft rides up to orbit. Its main competitor is also California-based Rocket Lab.
We've entered terminal count! T-15 minutes pic.twitter.com/vi3B4cCk0e— Astra (@Astra) December 15, 2020
"What we're trying to do is build a service that has a lower cost to operate, and a lower cost to provide the launch service," Astra CEO Chris Kemp said during a teleconference back in July.
What makes yesterday's launch even more impressive is that the team managed to carry out the launch with just five people on the ground. On top of this, in September, the team experienced a rocket loss error, making its turnaround time incredibly fast.
"We’ve only been in business for about four years, and this team only has about 100 people today," Kemp said. "This team was able to overcome tremendous challenges on the way to this success."
STAGE SEPARATION CONFIRMED!!!!!!!!!!!!!— Astra (@Astra) December 15, 2020
Astra hopes to be fully functioning next year, and is already offering its launch services from 2021 and 2022 — with a number of customers already signed up.
Yesterday's flight marked a great step forward on Astra's path.
The team always planned three attempts to make it to orbit — so a lot lies on Rocket 3.3's shoulders.
Astra shared a short one-minute recap video of yesterday's launch on Twitter, take a look:
A quick video recap of our 8.5-minute flight to space today! pic.twitter.com/gvElF4fbAZ— Astra (@Astra) December 16, 2020