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 Moves Toward First Launch

Cosmic Girl with LauncherOne attached. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Virgin Orbit PR) — The Virgin Orbit team has been firing on all cylinders as we button up our first orbital LauncherOne rocket and make final preparations for our upcoming launch demonstration.

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Virgin Orbit, ISI Partner to Develop Responsive Space Service

LauncherOne attached to Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

TEL AVIV, January 28, 2020 (Virgin Orbit PR) Virgin Orbit, the California-based small satellite launch company, has signed an agreement with ImageSat International (ISI), a global leader in space-based intelligence solutions, to develop an end-to-end responsive space service offering focused on national security customers. The joint turnkey service, announced at the 15th Ilan Ramon International Space Conference during Israel Space Week, would take advantage of the responsive and flexible capabilities of Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne system to rapidly deploy ISI’s high-resolution Earth observation small satellites.

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Report: Virgin Orbit Flight Test Set for This Month

LauncherOne attached to Cosmic Girl. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Forbes reports that Virgin Orbit plans to conduct a flight test of LauncherOne later this month:

A spokesperson from the company confirmed that Virgin Orbit will perform its first orbital test flight in January. And if all goes well, the company aims to turn around and launch its first customer payload shortly thereafter, likely in February. The customer for that launch is NASA, and Virgin Orbit plans to deliver 10 small satellites from the space agency’s ELaNa project, which works with universities and high schools to put student-designed research missions into space.

We’ll see if they make this schedule. They have been overly optimistic before.

Rocket Lab Moves Headquarters to Long Beach

Electron lifts off with DARPA’s R3D2 satellite. (Credits: Kieran Fanning, Sam Tom)

Rocket Lab is moving its corporate headquarters up the California coastline to the same Long Beach business park that houses one of its main rivals, Virgin Orbit.

The Long Beach Business Journal reports the small satellite launch company is moving into the Douglas Park development from its current home in Huntington Beach. The company has leased 87,605-square-foot building.

Rocket Lab is the third launch provider to move to the park. Virgin Orbit established its operations there in 2015. SpinLaunch signed a lease in Douglas Park two months ago.

Rocket Lab is preparing for the 10th launch of its Electron launch vehicle later this week from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand.

Virgin Galactic has not yet flown its LauncherOne booster, which is dropped from a modified Boeing 747. SpinLaunch rocket is also still in development.

NASA Selects TriSept to Support New Round of CubeSat Missions

CHANTILLY, Va., December 2, 2019 (TriSept PR) – TriSept Corporation, a leading provider of launch integration, management and brokerage services for commercial and government missions, today announced that it has been selected as a preferred provider to support NASA’s third round of CubeSat missions with dispenser hardware and integration services.

As part of a five year, $18 million NASA indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract, TriSept will be considered for CubeSat mission integration services and dispenser hardware procurement in support of upcoming CubeSat launches through 2025.

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Cornwall Council Approves $13.2 Million Grant for Virgin Orbit Project

Cosmic Girl performs first captive carry with LauncherOne. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Over strenuous environmental protests, the Cornwall Council approved a £10.3 million ($13.2 million) grant to fund improvements at Cornwall Airport Newquay to accommodate air launches by Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit.

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UK Space Agency Awards £7.35 million to Virgin Orbit to Support Cornwall Operations

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

SWINDON, UK (UKSA PR) — The UK Space Agency will award £7.35 million [$9.44 million] to Virgin Orbit UK Limited, the UK branch of US launch operator Virgin Orbit, to enable horizontal launch of small satellites at Cornwall Airport Newquay, it was confirmed today (Tuesday 5 November).

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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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SatRevolution, Virgin Orbit & Polish Universities Join to Launch CubeSat to Mars

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

KATOWICE, Poland, 9 October 2019 (Virgin Orbit PR) — Scientists and engineers from nearly a dozen Polish universities have teamed up with Poland-based satellite company SatRevolution and Sir Richard Branson’s small satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to establish a new consortium to design and carry out the world’s first dedicated commercial small satellite mission to Mars. The parties established the consortium at a formal signing ceremony during the Impact Mobility’ 19 rEVolution conference in Katowice, Poland.

The consortium will jointly develop the first in a series of up to three Mars missions, with the initial launch expected as early as three years from now.

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RAF Loans Pilot to Virgin Orbit for Satellite Launch Program

Mathew Stannard (Credit: RAF)

LONG BEACH, Calif. (RAF PR) — The Royal Air Force and Virgin Orbit have selected the RAF pilot to be seconded to the company’s ground-breaking small satellite launch programme.

The partnership between the RAF and Virgin Orbit was unveiled at the Air and Space Power conference in July. Following a tough selection process, Air Vice-Marshal Simon ‘Rocky’ Rochelle and Virgin Orbit CEO Dan Hart have announced that Flight Lieutenant Mathew ‘Stanny’ Stannard had been selected. 

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Virgin Orbit Ships First Flight-ready LauncherOne Booster to Mojave

The first flight-ready LauncherOne booster. (Credit: Virgin Orbit)

Virgin Orbit has shipped its first flight-ready LauncherOne up the road from Long Beach, Calif. to the Mojave Air and Space Port, where it is undergoing a series of tests before being air launched from the Cosmic Girl Boeing 747 carrier aircraft on the program’s first flight test.

Our latest rocket — which has already been fully integrated, tested, checked, re-checked, analyzed, and triple-checked — is destined for a rigorous crucible of engineering demonstrations and tests of its own. The final demonstration for this rocket will also be the biggest test we’ve attempted as a team: during that test, we’ll fire up LauncherOne’s engine in flight and head for space for the first time.

[….]

Our orbital test flight rocket is currently being installed into a newly built test stand in Mojave, where in the coming weeks we’ll run through a number of critical exercises, including loading and fueling with our mobile ground support equipment. We are prepping and practicing, making sure we know how to do everything we could conceivably ever need to do.  Then, it’s off to the skies — first for a captive carry flight, and then for the launch itself.

Opposition to Spaceport Cornwall Plan

It seems not everyone is on board with plans by UK governments to spend $25 million to create a spaceport in Cornwall for billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit launch company.

Cornwall Live reports Nichola Andersen has written to members of the Cornwall Council’s Cabinet to urge them to vote against a £12 million [$14.79 million] package for upgrades to Cornwall Airport Newquay to accommodate Virgin Orbit operations. The Cornwall Council will vote on the package in November.

She states that the council’s carbon emissions report is flawed and says that the cost of the spaceport should be with Sir Richard Branson and not Cornwall’s taxpayers.

“The report that the council has had is not a proper carbon audit – it has been calculated just on launches by Virgin Orbit, it has not taken into account all the other aspects, the testing by Virgin, the transport of their staff, the other launches.

Under the proposals Cornwall Council would provide £12m [$14.79 million] of funding for the spaceport with £7.5m [$9.68 million] coming from the UK Space Agency and £2.5m [$3.1 million] from Virgin Orbit.

Nichola said: “Richard Branson is the only beneficiary of this. Cornwall Council should be saying there are better things that we can spend this money on that will benefit people in Cornwall.

Virgin Orbit plans to use a Boeing 747 to air launch satellites using its LauncherOne rocket. Officials said the first flight test of the new booster is expected this fall.

Cornwall Council Cabinet to Vote on $14.8 Million for Spaceport

CORNWALL, UK ( Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership PR) — Business and space industry leaders are backing plans to create the UK’s first horizontal launch spaceport in Cornwall.

Spaceport Cornwall would use planes rather than vertical take-off rockets to put satellites into space from Cornwall Airport Newquay as early as next year, in partnership with California-based launch company Virgin Orbit.

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Lawrence Livermore Develops Innovative CubeSats

Engineers and scientists complete the installation of the laser heterodyne radiometer (LHR) into the MiniCarb cube satellite, or CubeSat. Clockwise from bottom left is Lance Simms from Lawrence Livermore and AJ DiGregorio, Guru Ramu, and Jenny Young from NASA. (Not pictured: Emily Wilson, Darrell Carter, and Vincent Riot.) (Credit: Randy Wong)

LIVERMORE, Calif. (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory PR) — The population of human-made satellites orbiting Earth has skyrocketed over the past 60 years. Launches nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017, and a significant contributor to this growth has been the development and implementation of small satellites that are easier and less expensive to build and more cost efficient to launch than conventional ones. Today, the hottest destination for these spacecraft is low-Earth orbit (LEO)—in the range of a few hundred kilometers above the planet’s surface.

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