Rocket Startup “Astra” Sends Rocket Into Space

(Noted News) — Sending rockets into space is almost becoming passé at this point, with yet another company successfully sending a rocket out of the earth’s atmosphere. 

California-based startup Astra has only been around for 4 years and has a team of fewer than 100 people, but on December 15 they joined the esteemed list of companies that have managed to enter orbital space. 

Lifting off from a launchpad in Kodiak, Alaska, the rocket, simply named “Rocket 3.2,” reached the 62-mile high Karman line, where the earth is separated from space. This was Astra’s second attempt. In September, they launched another rocket called Rocket 3.1, but experienced a guidance issue and had to abort the launch after 30 seconds. 

The malfunction was traced to a software issue in the rocket’s navigational systems. Though not the outcome they hoped for, the company not only solved the software issue but also gathered enough data to deem the first launch a quasi-success, and smoothly reach their goals the second time around. 

Chris Kemp, Astra’s CEO, said the launch was a big success, especially given the small team and the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“We’ve only been in business for about four years, and this team only has about 100 people today. This team was able to overcome tremendous challenges on the way to this success. We had a member of the team quarantining, and tested positive on the way to Kodiak,  which meant they had to quarantine the entire team, and then sent an entire backup team to replace them.” 

The launch also vindicated Astra’s baseline strategy of being able to manufacture and conduct launches with large amounts of automation and remote work. Kemp said that the entire on-site team for rocket launches is 5 people. Everyone else works remotely at a mission control site in California.

“We now are at a point where just five people can go up, and set up the entire launch site and rocket, and launch in just a couple of days.”

Astra, based in the California Bay area, aims to create a more commercialized, cost-efficient business model for space rockets, compared to the higher-end market that Elon Musk’s SpaceX shoots for. 

“What we’re trying to do is build a service that has a lower cost to operate, and a lower cost to provide the launch service,” Kemp said in July.

“That involves a much cheaper rocket, a highly automated factory, a highly automated launch operation and, really, just a real focus on efficiency and removing costs from every aspect of the service so that we can achieve scale and ultimately drive costs down through economies of scale and production.”

Astra tweeted an 8.5-minute video of the entire launch, and gave understandably excited updates in real-time, filled with caps lock and exclamation marks. 

Astra hopes to be fully operational in 2021, already securing some contracts, including a $3.9 million ticket from NASA to produce small satellites, A.K.A. “SmallSats”, for various purposes, including exploration, scientific research, and educational investigations at a lower cost basis for NASA missions.

Other companies working in a similar capacity with NASA are California-based Relativity Space Inc and Texas-based Firefly Black LLC.

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