Astra to perform next launch from Cape Canaveral

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WASHINGTON — Small launch vehicle developer Astra Space announced Dec. 6 that it will conduct its next launch from a pad at Cape Canaveral in January, carrying a set of cubesats for NASA.

Astra announced that it will conduct a launch of its Rocket 3.3 vehicle from Space Launch Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in January. The pad, originally developed for tests of the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile, is now operated by Space Florida. It has been used for launches of Athena rockets and, in 2019, a test of the launch abort system for NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

“This historic launch site has been prepared for a new commercial launch partner in less than year, which is a tremendous milestone for our combined team, and illustrates how SLD 45 sets the pace for access to space,” said Brig. Gen. Stephen Purdy, commander of the U.S. Space Force’s Space Launch Delta (SLD) 45 unit and director of the Eastern Range, in the statement. “SLD 45, Space Florida and Astra have moved at a rapid speed to demonstrate critical and responsive launch capabilities.”

Astra said in the statement that it will carry a payload for NASA on that flight but did not disclose additional details. A company spokesperson said this launch will be for NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services (VCLS) program, under a VCLS Demo 2 contract the company won a year ago.

That launch, designated ELaNa 41 by NASA, will carry five cubesats, according to a NASA manifest. Four of the cubesats are from universities: BAMA-1 from the University of Alabama, CURIE and QubeSat from the University of California Berkeley and INCA from New Mexico State University. The fifth, R5-S1, is from NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Astra has conducted all its orbital launch attempts to date from Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska on Kodiak Island, including, most recently, its first successful orbital launch Nov. 20. The Florida launch will be the company’s next orbital launch attempt.

“As Astra scales out, our goal is to be able to launch from multiple locations,” Benjamin Lyon, executive vice president and chief engineer of Astra, said in a Nov. 22 call with reporters. Both Lyon and Chris Kemp, Astra’s chief executive, declined to discuss specific locations, including a potential upcoming flight from Florida, in that call.

Launching from Cape Canaveral allows the company to access orbits not feasible from Alaska, which is intended for sun-synchronous and other high-inclination orbits. “This is an additional step in our global spaceport strategy and positions us to serve the broad low Earth orbit market,” Martin Attiq, chief business officer at Astra, said in the statement.