The Space Startup Astra Just Reached Orbit on Its Seventh Attempt

Joins the ranks of SpaceX, Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit.
Ameya Paleja
The LV0007 during a static fire testAstra/Instagram

Founded in 2016, California-based space startup, Astra achieved a key milestone as its launch vehicle, LV0007, reached orbit for the first time. According to the company's website, this is the first time when a space company has managed to reach orbit within five years of its inception. 

Aiming to create a "healthier and more connected planet", Astra has been working to perfect its launch vehicle that has failed due to multiple issues in the past. The company that started off in 'stealth mode' managed to become one of the three finalists for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Launch Challenge of 2019. Later that year, the company built its own rocket factory in California and completed the construction of its spaceport in Kodiak, Alaska. 

Success, however, remained elusive. Even though the company managed to reach the finals once again at the 2020 edition of DARPA's launch challenge, its rocket failed to get off the ground, The Verge reported. Another launch failed in September that year due to an issue with the rocket's guidance system. Before the year ended, its Rocket 3.2 reached space but could not get into its designated orbit due to a fuel shortage. 

In August this year, Astra's Rocket 3.3, called LV0006, being tested for the U.S. military managed to move sideways shortly after its launch and had to be terminated. CEO Chris Kemp had said that the company wasn't giving up on its plans and its next launch proved to be a success. 

Launch Vehicle 0007 (LV0007), carrying a test payload for the U.S. military took off from the company's spaceport in Alaska at 1:16 AM ET. The rocket proceeded smoothly towards space and after nine minutes entered orbit at an altitude of 310 miles (500 km). 

Astra uses economies of scale to reduce the cost associated with launches and already has secured contracts to launch 50 payloads so far. With its recent success, it has joined the ranks of a handful of private space companies that offer launch contracts. 

Apart from going public in July, the company also acquired Apollo Fusion, a company with a focus on using electric propulsion in space. As Kemp said, the company is just getting started.

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