Astra Space Scrub Launch of New Booster, Ends DARPA Launch Challenge

Astra Space 1 of 3 rocket on the launch pad in Alaska. (Credit: DARPA webcast)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Astra Space scrubbed the launch of its new booster from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska (PSC — Alaska) today, putting an end to its attempt to win $12 million in the DARPA Launch Challenge and the competition itself.

The countdown reached 53 seconds prior to a scheduled liftoff at 11:55 a.m. AKST (3:55 EST). The guidance, navigation and control officer called a hold on the launch for an undisclosed data problem.

Astra Space spent the next two hours trying to address the problem and launch the rocket with four satellites aboard. The company scrubbed the launch with about 30 minutes left in the three-hour launch window.

Astra Space, which is based in Alemeda, Calif., was attempting to win $2 million from DARPA for launching today. If it was successful, the company would have been given an opportunity to conduct a second launch from a different pad at PSC — Alaska within days to win an additional $10 million.

The competition challenged companies to conduct two launches on relatively short notice within a few weeks from different locations.

Astra Space was given two weeks to relocate its booster and equipment to Alaska and conduct a launch. Monday was the last day in the launch window for the first launch.

Astra Space was the last company standing in the DARPA competition. Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space pulled out of the competition to focus on the still-pending maiden flight of its LauncherOne booster. Vector Space filed for bankruptcy.

Watch Astra Space Launch Today Live From Alaska

The launch is scheduled for today, weather permitting. Tune in and see if it flies, dies or just sits there for another day.

UPDATE: Launch postponed until Sunday due to weather. Time TBA.

DARPA Launch Challenge Nears End with Modified Rules, One Competitor

The DARPA Launch Challenge is nearing its end with modified rules and only one of three finalists left standing to win $12 million in prize money.

Astra Space will attempt to conduct two launches within days of each other from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The launches will take place from different pads at the spaceport and place satellites into different sun-synchronous trajectories.

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Astra Emerges From Stealth, Shooting for $1 Million Per Launch

Astra Introduction Video from Chris Kemp on Vimeo.

Ashlee Vance also has a story at Bloomberg:

https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-astra-rocket/

Some interesting tidbits:

  • Astra’s next launch is scheduled for Feb. 21 from Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island;
  • previous two launches suffered in-flight failures;
  • payload will be up to 450 lb (204 kg) to low Earth orbit;
  • launch cost is $2.5 million, but Astra is working toward $1 million;
  • the company is using aluminum and simplified engines to keep costs down;
  • Astra has a staff of 150 people;
  • Former NASA Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Chris Kemp is CEO;
  • Astra’s CTO and co-founder is Adam London, who spent 12 years running Ventions;
  • The company has raised more than $100 million from investors;
  • Astra is the last of three companies standing in the DARPA Launch Challenge, under which it must launch twice from different locations in two weeks to win $12 million; and,
  • Other competitors included Vector Space, which has filed for bankruptcy, and Virgin Origin, which decided to pull out.

Virgin Orbit Drops Out of DARPA Launch Challenge

Virgin Orbit’s Cosmic Girl 747 performs its first captive carry of LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Citing more pressing launch commitments, Virgin Orbit has pulled out of the DARPA Launch Challenge. This withdrawal appears to leave the multi-million dollar rapid launch competition with precisely one unidentified competitor.

“We appreciate the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s leadership in constructing the Launch Challenge and we remain very supportive of the underlying goals of the competition,” Virgin Orbit said in a statement posted on Linkedin. “However, after comparing DARPA’s requested timeline with our commitments to our commercial and government customers, we have elected to withdraw from the competition.

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Virgin Orbit, Vector and Mystery Stealth Company Qualify for DARPA Launch Challenge

Credit: DARPA

ARLINGTON, Va. (DARPA PR) — The DARPA Launch Challenge aims to fundamentally shift military space capabilities to enable on-demand, flexible, and responsive launch of small payloads. Three competitors successfully completed the qualification phase and will attempt to launch to low-Earth orbit from two different U.S. locations within a matter of weeks. Teams will receive notice of the first launch site a few weeks prior to launch and exact details on the payload and intended orbit just days before launch. DARPA is targeting both launches for early 2020.

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DARPA Names Potential Sites for Launch Challenge, Eighteen Teams Prequalify

DARPA Launch Challenge candidate sites (Credit: DARPA)

ARLINGTON, Va. (NASA PR) — DARPA has narrowed the potential launch locations for the DARPA Launch Challenge to eight, with options for both vertical and horizontal launch. The challenge will culminate in late 2019 with two separate launches to low Earth orbit within weeks of each other from two different sites. Competitors will receive information about the final launch sites, payloads, and targeted orbit in the weeks prior to each launch.

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New DARPA Challenge Seeks Flexible and Responsive Launch Solutions

Credit: DARPA

More than $10 million in prize money for the first place team that successfully launches to low Earth orbit within days’ notice; completes a second launch from a different site days later

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (DARPA PR) — Today, DARPA announced the DARPA Launch Challenge, designed to promote rapid access to space within days, not years. Our nation’s space architecture is currently built around a limited number of exquisite systems with development times of up to 10 years. With the launch challenge, DARPA plans to accelerate capabilities and further incentivize industry to deliver launch solutions that are both flexible and responsive.

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DARPA Requests Quarter Billion for Space Development Programs

Artist’s conception of Boeing’s Experimental Spaceplane One (XS-1). (Credit: Boeing)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

DARPA has requested $254.67 million to fund a variety of space programs for FY 2019. The total includes funds for work on an experimental space plane, a responsive launch competition, and robotic on-orbit servicing of satellites in geosynchronous orbit (GEO).

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