In August, the Astra small launch vehicle will deliver a demonstration payload for the United States Space Force on its upcoming effort to reach orbit. The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and the company announced on August 5 that they had inked a launch deal for two launches of the company’s Rocket 3 vehicle. The first launch is slated for August 27 to September 11 from Kodiak Island’s Pacific Spaceport Complex.
That launch will deliver a “test payload” for the Defense Department’s Space Test Program that allows experimental payloads to fly. STP-27AD1 is the codename for the mission. A second launch is planned for later this year under the same deal.
Last year, Astra attempted two orbital launches with its Rocket 3 rocket. Its Rocket 3.1 rocket experienced issues with its navigation system shortly after the liftoff in 2020 September, forcing the first-stage engines to stop down and the vehicle to plunge back to Earth. On a December 2020 launch, the Rocket 3.2 vehicle came close to reaching orbit, but its engine (upper-stage) shut down prematurely due to fuel exhaustion.
Astra claims that the business has proven its potential to do so despite failing to enter orbit since orbit requires just minor modifications. The corporation asserted numerous times in a registration document filed with the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) on July 30 that “in December 2020, we inaugurated Rocket 3.2 to a height of 380 km, showing orbital launch capabilities.”
In a statement, Chris Kemp, Astra’s CEO, stated, “We’re pleased to begin out a multi-launch strategy with the Space Force.” “With this orbital demonstration launch, our team will be able to verify several improvements to our launch system.”
DIU has collaborated with a number of small launch vehicle firms, providing contracts for early vehicle launches to prove their capabilities. Relativity, Rocket Lab, ABL Space Systems, and VOX Space, Virgin Orbit’s government services subsidiary, were among the other companies awarded DIU launch contracts.
Kemp indicated in a June interview that the firm has over 50 launches under contract. However, the only clients it had disclosed at the time were Planet, for whom the imaging smallsats will soar on numerous flights in 2022, and NASA, which had awarded the company two smallsat launch contracts. In the fourth quarter, the company expects to start launching products on a monthly basis, with long-term goals of launching products on a practically daily basis.