Astra’s Rocket 3.3 reaches orbit on fourth attempt


WASHINGTON — Astra Space’s Rocket 3.3 successfully reached orbit on a Nov. 20 launch, the fourth orbital launch attempt by the small launch vehicle startup.

The Rocket 3.3 vehicle, with the serial number LV0007, lifted off at 1:16 a.m. Eastern from Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska on Kodiak Island. Astra scrubbed a launch attempt the previous day after more than two hours of delays.

The flight went as planned, with the first stage firing for about three minutes. The upper stage then separated and fired its single engine for approximately five and a half minutes, injecting the stage into an orbit nearly 500 kilometers high.

The launch carried a payload for the Space Test Program called STP-27AD2 through a contract arranged by the U.S. Space Force through the Defense Innovation Unit. The payload, designed to measure environmental conditions on the vehicle in flight, intentionally did not separate from the upper stage.

This was the fourth attempt by Astra to reach orbit. The previous attempt, Aug. 28, failed when one of five first-stage engines shut down within a second of liftoff. The company blamed the failure on a quick-disconnect system for propellant lines that leaked fuel, which ignited in an enclosed space between the rocket and launch platform, severing the connection to electronics controlling the fuel pump for that engine.

Two other launch attempts last year also failed to reach orbit. The second of those, in December 2020, nearly reached orbit. The upper stage ran out of fuel seconds before its planned shutdown, leaving it about 0.5 kilometers per second short of orbital velocity.

“The team has worked hard on this for so many years, seeing iteration after iteration, failure after failure, lead to success,” Chris Kemp, chief executive and co-founder of Astra, on the launch webcast.

Astra executives reported in an Nov. 11 earnings call that they hoped to launch the next vehicle, LV0008, before the end of this year, pending the outcome of this launch. That vehicle was nearing completion at the time of the call, with LV0009 and LV0010 in production.

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