Astra Rocket – Space Launch Report

Astra Rocket - Space Launch Report

Astra, a stealthy new-space startup company co-founded by Adam London and Chris Kemp during October 2016, began development of its small orbital launch vehicle during 2017. The two-stage LOX/kerosene fueled vehicle is named “Rocket” and is identified here as “Astra Rocket”.

It went through a series of design iterations, beginning with Rocket 1.0, which was tested at the former Alameda Naval Air Station in California beginning in 2017, and proceeding to Rocket 3.0, intended to make the first orbital attempts during 2020 as part of DARPA’s Launch Challenge.

Technical details of the engines and of the rocket itself are closely held. Five Delphin rocket engines that use battery powered turbopumps power the Astra Rocket 3.0 first stage. The second stage uses a single Aether rocket engine. Astra Rocket stands 11.6 meters tall and is 1.32 meters diameter. It uses a “fully containerized launch system” to provide rapid launch response in sparse settings. It also uses an “ultra-low-cost” metal structure. It is designed to place at least 100 kg into a presumably near-polar low Earth orbit.

Astra performed two suborbital test launches during 2018 from Kodiak, Alaska, using only live first stages. The first, an Astra Rocket 1.0 flown from Launch Pad 2 on July 21, 2018, reportedly failed about 60 seconds after liftoff. The second, an Astra Rocket 2.0, failed shortly after its November 29, 2018 attempt from the same pad. Based on lessons learned from these tests, the company developed Astra Rocket 3.0 during 2019. It appears to use a common bulkhead between its first stage propellant tanks, unlike the earlier iterations.

Astra Rocket DARPA Launch Challenge Campaign

Astra Rocket Space Launch Report

Rocket 3.0, 1-of-3, March 2020

Astra attempted to complete the DARPA Launch Challenge during late-February and early-March, 2020 at Kodiak. The company’s first Rocket 3.0, named “one of three”, was delivered to the launch site in a container and set up for launch at Launch Pad 3B. A propellant loading exercise was accomplished, but bad weather scrubbed the first two possible launch attempts. On March 2, 2020, good weather allowed a final attempt. The countdown proceeded smoothly toward a planned 20:55 UTC launch, after a 10 minute shift to avoid potential collision with the International Space Station. Then, at T-53 seconds, a “GNC Hold” stopped the attempt. The hold was caused by off-nominal sensor data involving the guidance and navigation system. Although the launch team had a three-hour window to work with, the problem proved unsolvable during the alloted time. The scrub meant loss of a potential $2 million DARPA award, but Astra planned to try again in a few weeks time.

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Vehicle Configurations (Estimated)

(metric tons)
~500 km x 97 deg from Kodiak
(metric tons)
(no payoad)
Astra Rocket 3.00.025 t2-Stage Astra Rocket11.6 m~10-11 t (est)

Vehicle Components

Stage 1Stage 2Payload
Diameter (m)1.32 m  
Length (m)   
Empty Mass (tonnes)   
Propellant Mass (tonnes)  
Total Mass (tonnes)  
Engine5 x Delphin1 x Aether
Engine MfgrAstraAstra
(SL tons)
14.275 t 
(Vac tons)
 0.318 t
ISP (SL sec)  
ISP (Vac sec)  
Burn Time (sec)  
No. Engines51

Astra Rocket Launch History

 Date     Vehicle      No. Payload           Mass  Site   Orbit
07/21/18  Rocket 1.0   1   Suborbital Test         KD 2  [FSO][1] 
11/29/18  Rocket 2.0   1   Suborbital Test         KD 2  [FSO][2]
[1] Failed at T+60 sec.
[2] Failed soon after liftoff.

KD = Kodiak, Alaska
FSO = Failed Suborbital     



By Ed Kyle (03/06/2020)

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