Astra Space Places Satellites into Orbit for First Time

Rocket 3.3 lifts off from Kodiak Island on March 15, 2022. (Credit: Astra Space/NASASpaceflight.com webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Astra Space placed satellites into the orbit for the first time on Tuesday, marking a return to flight after a launch failure last month destroyed four CubeSats.

Rocket 3.3 roared off the launch pad at the Pacific Spaceport Complex –Alaska on Kodiak Island at 9:22 a.m. PDT (12:22 p.m. EDT). At least two payloads were scheduled to separate 10 seconds after shutdown of the rocket’s second stage engine, but the company was not able to immediately confirm that deployment had occurred.

More than an hour later, CEO Chris Kemp appeared on the company’s webcast to say the satellites had separated successfully at the target altitude of 525 km (326 miles) and were communicating with their owners. A third payload stayed attached to the second stage as designed.

“The flight was nominal. We were able to precisely deliver to the targeted orbit and inclination at orbital velocity,” Kemp said.

One payload was Portland Aerospace Society’s OreSat0 was built by students from Portland State University. The open source 1U CubeSat is designed to test technology for a second spacecraft named OreSat. The 2U CubeSat will help refine global climate models by measuring the global distribution of high altitude cirrus clouds.

An unidentified customer had at least one satellite deployed from the rocket. Astra Space did not disclose the name, purpose or owner of the payload(s). In addition, NearSpace Launch’s S4 CROSSOVER stayed attached to the second stage as planned.

“S4 CROSSOVER is a technology demonstration mission to obtain flight heritage testing for a prototype payload host platform. It will test supporting future payloads, including a Globalstar transmitter and an Iridium transceiver, as well space environmental instruments to characterize the radiation and plasma densities to which the payloads will be exposed,” Astra said in a media packet.

“S4 CROSSOVER is self powered and operates independently of the Astra second stage to which it is permanently attached. Transmission from the S4 CROSSOVER will begin after second stage engine cutoff, activated by relays on the launch vehicle, and will operate until demise, which is expected to occur within a few weeks after launch,” the document added.

The launch marked a successful return to flight for Astra. On Feb. 10, four CubeSats were lost when Rocket 3.3’s payload shroud failed to separate as planned after launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The company identified and software problems as the cause of the failure.

It was the first deployment of functional satellites in nine launches of Astra’s small-satellite booster. A launch from Alaska placed a dummy payload into orbit during the company’s first successful launch in November 2021.

Despite the successful launch, Astra’s stock finished down for the day on the Nasdaq exchange. It opened at $3.64, rose to a high of $3.90, then slid to $3.09 during the time when the company was unable to confirm payload deployments. Shares finished down 15 cents at $3.49, rising 1 cent in after-hours trading.