The ranks of orbit-capable spaceflight companies just grew ever so slightly. TechCrunch reports Astra has reached orbit for the first time when its Rocket 3 booster launched shortly after 1AM Eastern today (November 20th). The startup put a mass simulator into a 310-mile-high orbit as part of a demonstration for the US Air Force’s Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, which shows how private outfits could quickly and flexibly deliver Space Force payloads.
This success has been a long time in coming. Astra failed to reach orbit three times before, including a second attempt where the rocket reached space but didn’t have enough velocity for an orbital insertion.
Company chief Chris Kemp stressed on Twitter that Astra was « just getting started » despite the success. It’s a significant moment all the same. Companies and researchers wanting access to space currently don’t have many choices — they either have to hitch a ride on one of SpaceX’s not-so-common rideshare missions or turn to a handful of options like Rocket Lab. Astra hopes to produce its relatively modest rockets quickly enough that it delivers many small payloads in a timely fashion. That, in turn, might lower prices and make space more viable.
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