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Astra is already gearing up for next launch after landmark 1st orbital success

Astra's Launch Vehicle 0007 (LV0007) lifts off on a test flight from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska on Nov. 20, 2021.
Astra's Launch Vehicle 0007 (LV0007) lifts off on a test flight from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska on Nov. 20, 2021. (Image credit: Astra)

Astra doesn't plan to rest on its laurels for long.

The Bay Area company reached orbit for the first time early Saturday morning (Nov. 20), sending a dummy payload aloft for the U.S. military from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska on a 43-foot-tall (13 meters) rocket called Launch Vehicle 0007 (LV0007).

Analyses of LV0007's successful flight continue, and the lessons learned will be incorporated into future rockets and missions, Astra representatives said during a news conference held Monday morning (Nov. 22). And the next liftoff should be just around the corner.

"I think the vehicle's ready for launch," Astra co-founder and CEO Chris Kemp said Monday, referring to LV0008. "We're working on all the details around the dates and the range, and we'll be making some announcements soon as to the schedule. But don't expect a long wait for the next flight."

Video: Watch Astra's Rocket 3.2 launch on its 1st successful flight

And don't expect that next flight to carry a dummy payload, either.

"We're out of test-flight phase," Kemp said. "We'll be resuming with commercial payloads that'll be operating for our customers in low Earth orbit."

He stressed, however, that Astra isn't done with test flights forever. The company plans to keep iterating and improving upon its rockets, and the upgraded versions will need to fly trial missions as they come online.

LV0007 and LV0008, for example, belong to Astra's Rocket 3 line. The company is working on Rocket 4 and plans to conduct a few test flights with the first of those vehicles next year, Kemp said.

Astra, which was founded in 2016, aims to secure a large portion of the small-satellite launch market with its small, cost-efficient and highly responsive rockets. The company's entire launch system can fit into a few standard shipping containers, which can be transported to the desired liftoff site quickly.

It doesn't take long for Astra rockets to make it to orbit, either; LV0007 reached its off-Earth destination in less than nine minutes on Saturday morning.

"I think Astra really is in a position to deliver a payload to a precise orbit on a precise schedule," Kemp said. 

"And this precision has a lot of value to our customers — their ability to fly something when they need it flown to exactly the orbit and have it there in 10 minutes," he added. "That's a pretty powerful, unique capability that really just hasn't been available at scale in this industry before."

So far, all four Astra orbital test launches have occurred from the Pacific Spaceport Complex. But the company eventually plans to fly from multiple sites around the world — and to launch more often than any company or organization ever has. 

Astra will ultimately target nearly daily space delivery: about 300 launches per year. That rate will require an enormous production capacity, something that the company is working to increase now: Astra is tripling the size of its Bay Area rocket factory, Kemp said.

"We're just getting started here," he said. "There's a lot of work to do — a lot of hard work to do."

Astra already has buy-in from a number of customers, some of whom are big players in spaceflight and space science. For example, the company recently inked a launch contract with Planet, which operates the world's largest constellation of Earth-observation satellites. And NASA selected Astra to loft its TROPICS ("Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats") hurricane-studying mission to orbit next year.  

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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Mike Wall

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.