The Rocket 3 is slated to launch once a day and costs under $500,000. Today she flew successfully for the first time.
In the fourth attempt to start it worked. The first rocket from the space company Astra has reached Earth orbit. On Saturday at 7:16 am Central European Time, the Rocket 3 took off and eight minutes later reached an orbit around 500 kilometers high. There was no satellite onboard the rocket, but a test payload from the US Space Force to carry out measurements for future satellite launches.
The listed company plans to launch rockets daily and build a constellation of 13,620 satellites. To achieve this, the launch costs should drop below 500,000 US dollars - at least adjusted for inflation - and the payload of the current rockets should be increased tenfold from 50 kg to 500 kg.
Technical Problems on First Starts
As with SpaceX's early launch attempts with the Falcon 1, Astra had some problems to overcome. The first missile exploded during pre-launch tests. During the first launch, the rocket went off course and was blown up after a minute, the second did not quite reach Earth orbit due to the incorrect fuel mix, and in the third, an engine failed during a spectacular false start.
The cause could be traced back to a leak in a fuel line, which led to a small explosion during the engine ignition and cut off the connection to the electronics of the engine control and the electric fuel pumps.
Reuse Is Irrelevant For Astra
Astra's Rocket 3 uses engine technology similar to that used by Rocketlab's Electron since 2017. The fuel pumps are driven by batteries with electric motors. For smaller rocket engines, this technology has proven to be faster and more powerful than conventional gas generators with turbines.
Just like Astra, Rocketlab is also in the process of going public through a shell company (SPAC) and building rockets for setting up satellite constellations. In doing so, Rocketlab is relying on the development of a larger rocket, which should be slightly smaller than the Falcon 9 from SpaceX and reusable.
Rocket Lab is currently testing the reusability of the Electron and recently recovered the third stage rocket from the ocean. In 2022, the first is to be caught in the air by helicopter. In contrast, Astra aims to reduce launch costs solely by mass producing their small rockets.