The startup company Astra has manufactured launch vehicles for both commercial and military customers. As of 2021, Astra is attempting to launch a launch vehicle into orbit, but has not been successful. These launch vehicles are labelled "Rocket 3".
Rocket 1 was a single test vehicle designed between October 2016, when Astra was formed, and March 2018 when the first launch window opened. This vehicle utilized five First stage "Delphin" engines. While second stage engine "Aether" was still being developed, an upper stage (second stage) mass simulator was used in its place. The exterior dimensions of this vehicle were similar to Rocket 3 due to the size limitation of fitting within a standard Shipping container. A number of unsuccessful launch attempts were made between the initial window in March 2018 and July 2018 before the vehicle lifted off in July 2018. At the time, the company had been commonly referred to as "Stealth Space Company" in various media outlets.
At approximately 22:00 UTC (15:00 PDT) on 20 July 2018, Rocket 1 left the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) Launch Pad 2 for the company's first sub-orbital launch attempt. The foggy conditions made it difficult to observe the launch according to local reporters. After approximately 27 seconds of propelled flight, the vehicle suffered an anomaly and returned to the ground, within the perimeter fence of the spaceport. Following uncertainty regarding the launch, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stated: "The Astra Space, Inc. launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska at Kodiak Island on 20 July 2018 experienced a mishap. It was an FAA-licensed launch, and the agency is reviewing the event". No injuries were reported. Craig Campbell, President of Alaska Aerospace, told SpaceNews on 27 July 2018:
"Our customer has requested we not discuss their operations with the press. I can confirm that a launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska occurred on Friday, July 20th and that the customer is very pleased with the outcome of the launch. While a post-launch team is reviewing the results of the launch, I can state that there was no material damage to our facilities as a result of this launch, we look forward to working with this customer to support their next launch from Alaska".
Rocket 2 was launched at approximately 20:00 PST on 29 November 2018 (30 November 2018 at 03:00 UTC) from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska, Launch Pad 2, the same used for Rocket 1. After approximately 30 seconds of powered flight, the vehicle aborted, resulting in a return to the launch site. Sources observing the launch reported the vehicle landed slightly outside the perimeter fence, south of the launch pad, but on spaceport property.
This launch had no customer and acted as a suborbital test flight using a mass simulator for the second stage, as Aether was still in development. There was no payload on board. The mission planned to fly on an azimuth of 195° from the spaceport, but the license did not disclose the planned altitude or downrange distance for the mission. No injuries were reported.
|Function||Orbital launch vehicle|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Cost per launch||US$2.5 million|
|Height||11.6 m (38 ft)|
|Payload to SSO|
|Altitude||500 km (310 mi)|
|Mass||25–150 kg (55–331 lb)|
|Thrust||c. 32,500 lbs |
|Thrust||665 lbf vacuum|
|Propellant||LOX / RP-1|
The Rocket 3 is a family of 11.6 m (38 ft) launch vehicles that have a payload capacity of 25–150 kg (55–331 lb) to a 500 km (310 mi) Sun-synchronous orbit. It consists of two stages. The first stage has 5 engines called "Delphin".
The first Rocket 3, "1 of 3" or "Rocket 3.0", completed a static fire test at Castle Airport, California. It was planned to launch from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) with attempted launches in late February and early March of 2020, with the last launch attempt on 2 March 2020, as part of the DARPA Launch Challenge. Three CubeSats for the U.S. Department of Defense and the University of South Florida, along with a space-based beacon designed to aid in space traffic management, were slated to ride into orbit on "1 of 3". On 2 March 2020, DARPA and Astra officials said the Prometheus CubeSat, the University of South Florida's two Articulated Reconnaissance and Communications Expedition (ARCE) nanosatellites, and the space-based radio beacon payload were to be removed from the rocket after the end of the Launch Challenge. Astra had failed to launch within the DARPA Launch Challenge's launch window; launch preparations continued regardless for the test flight.
On 23 March 2020, "1 of 3" was destroyed by fire during launch preparations. The incident at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island occurred while Astra was detanking fuel during a pre-launch countdown dress rehearsal. A valve on Rocket 3.0 remained open. This incident was first reported by KMXT, a local public radio station. Astra CEO Chris Kemp confirmed no payloads were on-board Astra's rocket at the time of the incident.
A second launch attempt was planned for no earlier than 31 August 2020 at 02:00 UTC using the second Rocket 3 vehicle, Rocket 3.1 (formerly "2 of 3"), but was delayed due to unfavorable weather conditions. The next launch window began on 11 September 2020. The launch occurred on 12 September 2020 at 03:19 UTC. The launch failed during first stage flight, when Rocket 3.1 experienced an anomaly and fell back to Earth shortly after, and exploded on impact in a part of the spaceport that was cleared of personnel before launch. However, many public viewers captured footage of the launch and failure with the rocket slamming into the ground creating an explosion and cloud. Astra officials said on 12 September 2020, a software fix will likely resolve a guidance system problem that caused the first orbital-class rocket to begin drifting off course soon after liftoff, prompting a range safety officer to terminate the flight. The result was not unexpected after Astra officials set modest goals for the test flight. The rocket carried no payload. The company said it planned a series of three test launches before it expects to reach orbit with its commercial rocket. Astra confirmed that Rocket 3.2, the third Rocket 3, was almost complete and would take flight after data review and making necessary changes.
On 15 December 2020 at roughly 20:55 UTC, Astra launched its third Rocket 3 vehicle, called Rocket 3.2. The rocket successfully passed the Kármán Line and reached its target orbital altitude of 390 kilometers, a first for Astra. However, due to issues with the upper stage's fuel mixture, the rocket failed to achieve orbit. The company declared the flight a success, arguing that their objective for the test flight was to achieve a successful cut-off of the first stage's main engine, which was achieved. The rocket did not carry any satellites or other payloads, as the launch was a demonstration mission.
|Flight||Date / time (UTC)||Rocket||Launch site||Payload||Payload mass||Orbit||Customer||Outcome[Note 1]|
|1||20 July 2018 ||1.0||PSCA, Pad 2 ||Mass Simulator||Unknown||Suborbital||Test Flight||Failure (Astra declared success) |
|P120 mission for a commercial customer. The FAA reported an unknown mishap occurred during the launch; Astra later noted the launch was successful.|
|2||29 November 2018 ||2.0||PSCA, Pad 2 ||Mass Simulator||Unknown||Suborbital||Test Flight||Failure (Astra declared success) |
|Launch for a commercial customer. Flight ended earlier than planned, likely due to engine failure. Rather than including an active second stage, this launch carried an "upper stage mass simulator".|
|N/A||23 March 2020||3.0||PSCA, Pad 3B ||N/A||N/A||LEO||DARPA Launch Challenge||Precluded|
|"1 of 3". Initially intended to be part of the DARPA Launch Challenge, but failed to launch within the challenge's launch window due to an issue with a sensor for the guidance, navigation, and control systems. The rocket was reused for the next launch without DARPA involvement, but on 23 March 2020, a fire occurred on the launch pad prior to launch, destroying the rocket.|
|3||12 September 2020
03:19 UTC 
|3.1||PSCA, Pad 3B||None ||N/A||LEO||None||Failure|
|Formerly "2 of 3". Second attempt to launch a Rocket 3 for the first time. Initially intended to be the second of two launches for the DARPA Launch Challenge. 30 seconds after lift off engines were shutdown by the range safety officer.|
|4||15 December 2020
20:55 UTC 
|3.2 ||PSCA, Pad 3B||None ||N/A||LEO||None||Failure |
|Formerly "3 of 3". First Astra rocket to pass the Kármán Line and reach its target orbital altitude of 390 kilometers. Failed to reach stable orbit due to issues with the upper stage's fuel mixture. But exceeded the company's expectations with an otherwise-successful climb into space from Kodiak Island, Alaska.|
|5||August 2021||3.3 ||PSCA, Pad 3B||TBA||LEO||TBA||Planned|
|It will have a payload aboard.|
|6||2021||3.4 ||PSCA, Pad 3B||TBA||LEO||TBA||Planned|
|7||2021||3.5 ||PSCA, Pad 3B||TBA||LEO||TBA||Planned|
|Date / time (UTC)||Rocket||Launch site||Payload||Payload mass||Orbit||Customer||Outcome[Note 2]|
|First of three launches launching TROPICS constellation. Series will launch six satellites in total. Targeting to launch no earlier than 8 January 2022.|
|Second of three launches launching TROPICS constellation.|
|Final of three launches launching TROPICS constellation. Targeting to launch no later then 31 July 2022.|