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Astra aiming for 1st orbital launch in early August

A view of Astra's Rocket 3.0 on the launch pad at the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska on March 2, 2020. The day's planned launch attempt was scrubbed, ending Astra's chance to win the DARPA Launch Challenge.
A view of Astra's Rocket 3.0 on the launch pad at the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska on March 2, 2020. The day's planned launch attempt was scrubbed, ending Astra's chance to win the DARPA Launch Challenge.
(Image: © DARPA)

The spaceflight startup Astra plans to reach orbit for the first time in early August.

On Monday (July 20), the California-based company announced that its 38-foot-tall (11.6 meters) Rocket 3.1 is scheduled to launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska's Kodiak Island during a six-day window that opens Aug. 2.

The rocket journeyed to Kodiak last week after performing two static-fire tests at Astra's California facilities, company representatives said on Twitter. (Static fires test a rocket's engines while the vehicle is tethered to the ground.)

Astra had originally aimed to get its orbital wings nearly five months ago. Rocket 3.1's predecessor, Rocket 3.0, was poised to lift off from Kodiak on March 2 on a mission that would have delivered four payloads to orbit and netted the company $2 million.

Related: The history of rockets

The money would have come from the U.S. Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA), which held a two-part competition called DARPA Launch Challenge to encourage the development of private rockets that can launch small payloads efficiently and on short notice. 

It wasn't to be, however. Engineers noticed some potentially problematic rocket data just before liftoff, Rocket 3.0 stayed on the ground and the prize money went unclaimed. (March 2 was the final day for Astra to ace the competition's first leg.)

The two-stage Rocket 3.0 was damaged in late March, during preparations for a liftoff unaffiliated with the DARPA Launch Challenge. So the company's first orbital attempt falls to Rocket 3.1.

There's no guarantee that this launch will work, of course. In the leadup to the DARPA Launch Challenge attempt, Astra CEO Chris Kemp stressed that orbital rockets' debut missions are usually unsuccessful.

"Success for this flight means we accomplish enough to make orbit within three flights, which we have defined as at least achieving a nominal first-stage burn," Astra representatives said via Twitter last month, referring to the coming launch attempt. 

The company has not announced which payloads, if any, will fly atop Rocket 3.1 on the upcoming mission.

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 Facebook. 

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