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Astra, an upstart launch provider with high-profile investors and dozens of contracts under its belt, will fly its next mission from the Space Coast.
The California-based small satellite launcher will become one of a select few to fly from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in January when its launch system boosts a $3.9 million NASA mission to orbit. An exact timeframe has not yet been approved by the range.
Hosting the Venture Class Launch Services Demonstration 2 mission will be Launch Complex 46, a pad formerly used for military ballistic missile tests now operated by Space Florida, the state's spaceport authority. The agency over the years has turned LC-46 into a "plug-and-play" facility, meaning agile launchers like Astra don't need to construct a dedicated pad for their rocket and can instead use provided infrastructure.
The company, publicly traded under the ticker ASTR, completed its first successful mission just over two weeks ago when it boosted a Space Force payload from Kodiak, Alaska. Most of mission control for Astra's remote operation at the Pacific Spaceport Complex can be run from its headquarters in California.
That existing infrastructure combined with Astra's ability to fit the majority of its launch system in a few shipping containers meant Space Florida and the Space Force's locally based Space Launch Delta 45 were able to approve the company in just seven months, a source familiar with the development told FLORIDA TODAY. Companies typically take between three to five years for approval because of the need for complicated ground systems and entire complexes dedicated specific types of rockets.
The source said the January mission, contracted by NASA at $3.9 million, will cost Astra $3.75 million to launch. It includes five small satellites called CubeSats for the University of Alabama, University of California, New Mexico State University, and NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Astra, founded just five years ago, was once considered a "stealth startup" by experts in the industry. It started gaining public recognition during 2020 launch attempts in Alaska for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and has since secured more than 50 contracts.
Its vehicle, referred to simply as "Rocket" in official company communications, is a liquid-fueled rocket that stands about 40 feet in height. For context, more commonly seen Space Coast launches feature rockets like SpaceX's Falcon 9 or United Launch Alliance's Atlas V, which stand between 198 and 230 feet.
Astra takes an automobile production-like approach to rocketry, using existing technologies and hardware to reduce costs and increase efficiencies. Being able to fit the small launcher in shipping containers means the company can, under ideal conditions, launch from spaceports all over the world.
If all goes well, Astra hopes to see a consistent cadence of Cape launches over the coming months and years.
Launch Complex 46 was last used in 2019 for Ascent Abort-2, which tested the launch escape system on NASA's Orion capsule. It's part of the overall Space Launch System that aims to put American astronauts back on the moon no earlier than 2025.
For the latest, visit floridatoday.com/launchschedule.
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Launch startup Astra will fly its first Florida mission in January