Space force

Rocket startup Astra will launch a satellite for the US Space Force this month

The small launch start-up astra will put a satellite into orbit for the first time this month, if all goes as planned.

United States space force has booked two assignments with Astra, the Bay Area company announced today (August 5). The first flight will launch a test payload for the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska during a window that runs from Aug. 27 through Sept. 11.

“We are delighted to partner with Astra on this mission and believe this presents a low-cost, mobile and responsive critical launch capability,” said Col. Carlos Quinones, Space Test Program Manager, said in a press release.

Video: Watch the launch of Astra’s Rocket 3.2 on its first successful flight

The second mission will lift off later this year, Astra representatives said.

“We are excited to launch a multiple launch campaign with Space Force,” Astra Founder, Chairman and CEO Chris Kemp said in the same statement. “This orbital demonstration launch allows our team to verify many upgrades to our launch system.”

Astra, which was established in 2016, aims to claim a significant share of the small satellite launch market by offering dedicated, cost-effective and flexible routes to space with a range of mass-produced and streamlined two-stage rockets.

These vehicles are constantly evolving. For example, the next Space Force launch will use the 38-foot-tall (12-meter) Rocket 3.3, which features five “Delphin” first-stage engines and one “Aether” engine in its upper stage. But next year, Astra plans to launch the Rocket 4 lineup, which will sport a single first-stage engine – an all-new motor more powerful than five Delphins put together.

Astra has made two orbital launch attempts to date, both test flights from the Pacific Spaceport Complex. The 3.1 rocket lifted off in September 2020 but failed to reach space after suffering a problem with its guidance system. Three months later, Rocket 3.2 has reached the final frontier but ran out of fuel seconds before reaching orbital velocity.

So Astra could hit two major milestones on the next Space Force mission – its first trip to orbit and its first satellite deployment.

The company does not plan to rest on these laurels, if it achieves them. Astra wants to start a monthly launch cadence this fall, then move to weekly liftoffs by the end of 2022, Kemp told Space.com earlier this summer. And it hopes to launch almost every day, from many places around the world, by 2025.

The company already has a number of customers lined up. Astra has contracts for more than 50 launches, which together represent more than $150 million in revenue, Kemp said.

Astra has been in the headlines a lot lately. In June, for example, the company announced that it acquisition of Apollo Fusion, which builds electric-powered spacecraft engines. These engines will allow Astra to deliver payloads to destinations beyond low Earth orbit, Kemp said. And last month, Astra became the first launch company to trade on the Nasdaq Global Select Market.

Mike Wall is the author of “The low(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.