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Astra to launch Earth-observing satellites for Planet in 2022

Astra's Rocket 3.2 launches on a test flight from Alaska's Pacific Spaceport Complex on Dec. 15, 2020. The rocket reached space, a first for California-based Astra.
Astra's Rocket 3.2 launches on a test flight from Alaska's Pacific Spaceport Complex on Dec. 15, 2020. The rocket reached space, a first for California-based Astra. (Image credit: Astra/John Kraus)

Two Bay Area startups will work together to get satellites to orbit next year.

San Francisco-based company Planet has tapped Astra, which is based in the East Bay, to launch some of its Earth-observing spacecraft in 2022.

"We are thrilled to be working with Planet Labs on a multi-launch mission in 2022," Astra CEO and co-founder Chris Kemp wrote in a blog post last week, referring to Planet by another name that the company has used.

"This is a milestone for both of our companies and creates an important inflection point as we begin delivering launch services to our customers that are creating a healthier and more connected planet," Kemp added.

Gallery: Planet's photos of Earth from space

He didn't disclose the value of the contract, the number of launches it will cover or which type of Planet satellite will ride aboard Astra's 38-foot-tall (12 meters) Rocket 3. Planet manages two active constellations of Earth-observing satellites: a huge flock of Dove cubesats, each of which is about as big as a loaf of bread, and a much smaller network of minifridge-sized SkySats

Planet sells the imagery captured by these spacecraft to a variety of customers. The company also commonly releases especially important photos free of charge — shots showing the aftermath of Iranian missile attacks on Iraqi military bases in January 2020, for example.

Astra aims to become a big player in the small-satellite launch market by providing fast, flexible and cost-effective rides to orbit with the two-stage Rocket 3, which has one spaceflight under its belt. That milestone occurred in December 2020, during a test launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska's Kodiak Island.

Planet isn't the only customer that Astra has lined up. In February, for example, Astra won a $7.95 million contract to launch NASA's Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS) mission. 

TROPICS will use a network of six cubesats to study how hurricanes form and evolve. The spacecraft will be lofted by three Rocket 3 launches from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, which will take place over a 120-day period between Jan. 8 and July 31 of next year, NASA officials said.

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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