Astra will launch an orbital rocket from the Lower 48 for the first time this weekend, if all goes according to plan.
Astra is preparing to launch the ELaNa 41 mission from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Saturday (Feb. 5), the California company announced via Twitter on Tuesday (Feb. 1). Liftoff is now set for 2:10 pm ET (1910 GMT) during a launch window that closes at 4 pm ET (2100 GMT).
ELaNa 41 will launch six tiny cubesats as part of NASA's Educational Launch of Nanosatellites (ELaNa) initiative. Astra has been gearing up for the mission for a while now — the company performed a prelaunch static fire test with its Rocket 3.3 vehicle at Cape Canaveral on Jan. 22, for example — but has had to wait for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to issue a launch license.
It appears that procedural box will soon be checked: Astra expects the license to be granted on Friday (Feb. 4), company representatives said in another Tuesday tweet.
"Astra's new license, issued in just three months, will, with planned modifications, make it easier to launch at a higher frequency out of more launch sites in the United States," the company tweeted on Tuesday.
ELaNa 41 will be a milestone launch for Astra in several different ways. It will be the first launch of operational satellites by the company, which has reached orbit once to date, on a test mission for the U.S. military that lifted off in November 2021.
This weekend's launch will also be Astra's first from the Lower 48 states. The company has performed four orbital test launches to date, all of them from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska.
Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.