Imminent Rocket Launch by Astra Will Determine If They Win DARPA's $12M Challenge

The hope is that the U.S. military finds a way to shoot satellites into orbit at short notice.
Fabienne Lang
Astra rocket in preparation for its launchDARPA/Twitter

California-based rocket start-up, Astra, is about to launch its first three orbital missions, with the hope of winning $12 million from the U.S government. 

That's not all Astra's looking to gain from this challenge posed by DARPA, which is run by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The rocket-making company has been lying under the radar for a while now but is ready to see whether its efforts will see its disposable rockets reach orbit

What is the DARPA Launch Challenge?

DARPA set out a launch challenge in 2018 to see whether a company could complete two launches from different locations within mere days of each other. DARPA is looking to hoist the U.S. military's ability to launch satellites into space in a short space of time. 

When the challenge was made public, 18 firms applied and qualified, but now Astra is the only one to remain. 

Astra's first orbital launch is due today, Friday 28 February, at 3:30 PM ET. Both missions will launch out from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA), in Kodiak, Alaska.

If all goes to plan today, Astra will win $2 million from DARPA, and if it successfully launches its second rocket in a few weeks' time it will then win an additional $10 million


It's all very exciting, however, Chris Kemp, CEO of Astra remains cautious, as he mentioned that a successful launch is "pretty unlikely, actually."

The company's rocket has yet to ever reach orbit, and accomplishing such a feat on its first attempt would be considered something short of a miracle. Kemp continued "Our success criteria is that we will accomplish enough in these two flights that we will be able to reach orbit on the third flight."

Astra is ready though, with five rockets at-the-ready the team is prepared to improve each rocket after every launch.

One of the bonuses of Astra's rockets is that they're very simple to build. They are made up of a very inexpensive aluminum and are assembled "in much the same way that an automobile is put together," said Kemp. Each one costs around $1 million to build, are 11.6 meters, and appear to be both cheaper and easier to put together than traditional ones.

You can watch today's rocket's launch live below: 


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