Astra throws in the towel, it’s the end of crashes for the small rocket Rocket 3

Eric Bottlaender

Space specialist

August 08, 2022 at 11:50 a.m.


Astra Rocket 3 © Astra Space

Sometimes it works, too… Credits: Astra Space

With its catastrophic flight statistics, Astra could not make its small Rocket 3 launcher reliable. The technique of success by error has its limits: money is needed in the coffers. So the firm stops flights in 2022 and will try to bring a new generation to the market.

It’s not a failure, it didn’t work.

Going into orbit remains complicated

Over time, the take-offs of Astra’s small Rocket 3 launcher had become entertainment bordering on unhealthy. Indeed, the spectator was practically guaranteed to have a “spectacle” given the long litany of failures of the company, whether in the first seconds of the flight or at several hundred kilometers of altitude.

A show at the expense of the efforts of the Astra teams, who nevertheless give their best between each flight to make the equipment more reliable, work to ensure both performance for this rocket capable of carrying a few tens of kilograms into orbit, while keeping floor costs.

Based in Alameda, California, in former US Air Force premises, Astra has come a long way since its first orbital launch attempt in March 2020. But even though the company employs the technique of “success by error” and assumes the first failures, these last two years have been costly: five failures in seven flight attempts, not counting the first launcher destroyed during a fire at the launch site.

Astra in danger?

Despite its progress, Astra is a listed company, which needs a lot of money to establish itself in a market for small launchers which remains very competitive. Especially since Chris Kemp, the founder of Astra, originally planned to launch his rockets ” several times a week “, because the shootings are invoiced only a few million dollars to the customers. Customers who are very rare given the failure rate…

NASA itself (notorious for cheering on domestic companies, even when errors occur) is still investigating the latest misfire, the launch of two TROPICS weather observation satellites. In this context, Astra “consumed” 48 million dollars in the second quarter of 2022… and there are only 200 million left in the coffers. So a radical change is needed to ensure that the company stays afloat.

astra rocket 0006 failure © Astra Space/Nasaspaceflight

This “drift” take-off remains memorable. Credits: Astra Space/Nasa Space Flight

More spare parts and fewer rockets

The company has therefore decided to cease Rocket 3 launches and not to commit to new take-offs by the end of 2022. As a promise, Astra is instead working on setting up its next generation (the very inspired “Rocket 4”), which will be able to transport up to 600 kg of payload in low orbit for a price which, in accordance with the history of Astra, will defy all competition.

The debut of the new launcher in 2023 will be followed with attention, even if the company already affirms it: it expects the majority of next year’s income from the sale of small electric motors thanks to the acquisition of the start-up Apollo Fusion. . An interesting track, when the business of small launchers is more complex than ever…

Source : Space News

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