Astra (aerospace)

Summary

Astra Space, Inc.
TypePublic
Nasdaq: ASTR
IndustryAerospace
FoundedOctober 2016; 5 years ago (2016-10)
Founder
Headquarters
Key people
Chris Kemp (CEO)
Adam London (CTO)[1]
Number of employees
100 (2020)
Websitehttps://astra.com

Astra is an American launch vehicle company based in Alameda, California. Astra was incorporated in October 2016 by Chris Kemp and Adam London.[2][3] Formerly known in media as "Stealth Space Company", the company formally came out as Astra Space, Inc. in a Bloomberg L.P. article by Ashlee Vance.[4] Investors include BlackRock, Advance, ACME, Airbus Ventures, Innovation Endeavors, Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and more.[5]

History

Astra was founded in October 2016 by Chris Kemp and Adam London.[6]

Before being reincorporated as Astra Space Inc. in 2016, Ventions, LLC was a small San Francisco based aerospace research and design firm with a 10+ year history developing aerospace technology in partnership with NASA[7] and DARPA. Ventions was founded in 2005 and located at 1142 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.[clarification needed]

Following the 2016 reincorporation, Ventions, LLC employees expanded to a new building at Naval Air Station Alameda, known as "Orion", due to its location at 1690 Orion Street, Alameda, CA 94501.[8][9] This former naval jet engine testing facility provided the ability to perform in-house single engine testing, as opposed to the former Ventions, LLC test site at Castle Air Force Base. Due to Naval Air Station Alameda's vast retired runways, the company was able to perform full vehicle testing very close to their headquarters, eliminating the need for expensive and complex logistics for rocket testing.[10] However, this was diminished[how?] by choosing Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA)[when?] as the only launch location.

During early to mid 2019, most non-test related employees moved from the Orion building into a new building at 1900 Skyhawk Street, Alameda, CA 94501,[11] known as "Skyhawk". This allowed a large expansion of a previously cramped machine shop, additional in house machining capabilities, and a rocket production line in anticipation of Rocket 3. Additionally, this building has a number of known chemical contaminants [12] due to its history as a Naval jet engine overhaul facility (Building 360)[11] and is now designated as part of Naval Air Station Alameda Superfund site.[13][14]

Two suborbital test flights were conducted in 2018 from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA): one on 20 July 2018 (Rocket 1.0), and one on 29 November 2018 (Rocket 2.0). Both were stated to be launch failures by the Federal Aviation Administration.[15][16] However, Astra stated that both were successful and the second one was "shorter than planned".[17][3] Astra spent 2019 designing and building Rocket 3.0 integrating propulsion systems, avionics, and other pressurization/plumbing components into a high-performance electric pump-fed orbital launch vehicle.[citation needed]

From 2018 to 2020, Astra was a contender in the DARPA Launch Challenge; first, as one of three teams, although at this point Astra kept its involvement secret and was only referred to as "stealth startup" by the Challenge organizers. Then as the other two teams dropped out and remaining as the only team in the competition. The competition involved launching two small satellite payloads into orbit from two different launch sites in the U.S. with approximately two weeks between launches. Astra attempted to perform a launch for the Challenge in late February – early March 2020 from PSCA, but had to scrub the launch attempts and in the end, did not launch a rocket for the Challenge (due to faulty sensor data). With the competition's only remaining team (Astra) being unable to launch a rocket within the set time frame, DARPA announced the DARPA Launch Challenge closed on 2 March 2020 with no winner. The prize of US$12 million went unclaimed.[17]

On 23 March 2020, Astra's Rocket 3.0 ("1 of 3"), the vehicle that was initially intended to launch as Astra's first rocket for the DARPA Launch Challenge, but which failed to launch within the challenge's launch window[18][19] and was subsequentially reused for the next launch without DARPA involvement, suffered a fire on the launch pad (Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska|PSCA, Pad 3B[20]) prior to launch, destroying the rocket.[21]

On 11 September 2020, Astra attempted another orbital rocket launch, this time with their Rocket 3.1.[22] The rocket cleared the launchpad before tumbling and falling back to Earth, exploding on impact.[23]

In October 2020, Astra was selected by the U.S. Air Force's AFWERX program to pursue the development of their Rocket 5.0, although it was not clear if the selection was tied to a specific monetary award.[24]

On 15 December 2020, Astra's Rocket 3.2 nearly (but did not) reached orbit after a launch from Kodiak Island, Alaska.[25]

On 2 February 2021, Astra announced they planned to go public.[26] On 18 February 2021, Astra announced the appointment of former Apple engineering leader Benjamin Lyon as its new chief engineer.[27]

On 1 July 2021, Astra completed its first day as a public company on the Nasdaq.[28]

On 28 August 2021, the Rocket 3.3 vehicle (serial number LV0006) failed to reach orbit. Following an "unexpected sideways ascent off the pad" due to a single engine failure on the first stage less than one second after liftoff, the rocket's engines were commanded to shut off by range safety at 2 minutes and 28 seconds into the flight. The flight was subsequently terminated, but reached an altitude of 50 km (31 mi) before crashing into the ocean downrange.[29][30] A fueling system propellant leak was determined as the root cause of the engine outage.[31]

On 20 November 2021, Astra's Rocket 3.3 vehicle (serial number LV0007) successfully reached orbit after launching from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) carrying the demonstration payload STP-27AD2 for the United States Space Force.[32] Achieving an orbital launch in just five years and one month after Astra was founded, "Astra became the fastest company to reach orbit with a privately developed liquid-fueled rocket"[33] over a year less than SpaceX at six years and four months.[33]

Rockets

On 20 November 2021 at 06:16:00, Astra managed to launch its first successful mission to orbit. Rocket 3.3 (LV0007), carrying a demonstration payload from the US Department of Defense was launched from PSCA, after several unsuccessful launches during 2021. The company's stocks surged by as much as 42% after this feat.[34]

Astra has previously manufactured launch vehicles for both commercial and military customers. These launch vehicles are labelled "Rocket 3".

The first two rockets, Rocket 1.0 and Rocket 2.0 were test vehicles without payloads. Although their only launches were reported to be failures,[35][36] Astra reported they were successful in reaching space on their third Rocket 3 launch but the upper stage did not make orbit due to a wrong fuel and oxidizer mixture ratio. The company concluded that this met their goal for the mission and on their next flight will fly a commercial payload.[37] Astra's next flight on 28 August 2021 with their fourth Rocket 3 vehicle, Rocket 3.3 (LV0006) carrying a payload for the United States Space Force, failed to reach space after suffering an engine failure at T+1 second.[38]

Future rocket variants currently in development include Rocket 4 (an upgraded version of Rocket 3) and Rocket 5 (a suborbital point-to-point delivery variant of Rocket 3).[39][40]

Satellite bus

Astra is developing a satellite bus for customer payloads. The first prototypes are planned for launch in 2022 on Rocket 3 launch vehicles, with customer services commencing in 2023.[41]

See also

References

  1. ^ "Team | Astra". Astra. Archived from the original on 25 April 2020. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  2. ^ "DARPA Launch Challenge". Archived from the original on 23 June 2020. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Welcome | Astra". Archived from the original on 3 February 2020. Retrieved 6 March 2020.
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  5. ^ "Rocket startup Astra emerges from stealth, aims to launch for as little as $1M per flight". TechCrunch. Archived from the original on 24 February 2021. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  6. ^ The future of Astra with Founder and CEO Chris Kemp Archived 1 October 2021 at the Wayback Machine, NasaSpaceFlight.com, 5 June 2021, retrieved 6 June 2021.
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  20. ^ Twitter-News Archived 1 March 2020 at the Wayback Machine from Todd Master, 1 März 2020
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External links