Astra is set to launch its next mission from Florida’s Space Coast rather than Alaska, where the company conducted its previous launches. Today we saw the first signs of Astra’s launch readiness with a vertical rocket on its launch site.
Astra will be launching its first payload for NASA, consisting of five CubeSats a part of the Educational Launch of Nanosats (ELaNa) 41 mission. It will also serve as a demo flight for NASA’s Venture Class Launch Services 2 program. The ELaNa program helps launch payloads from universities built by students into space. This mission will have four payloads from universities around the US and one from NASA.
ELaNa 41 payloads
- BAMA-1 – University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- INCA – New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
- QubeSat – University of California, Berkeley
- R5-S1 – NASA’s Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas
Astra’s first Florida Rocket vertical
Astra’s Rocket 3 vehicle has had a troubled start but finally reached orbit last year, sending a test payload for the US Space Force into orbit from Alaska. Selected in December of 2020, Astra received $3.9 million for this mission. NASA used this selection to help prepare the agency and industry for future use of the SmallSat launch service it expects to need.
Currently, ELaNa-41 is expected to launch sometime this month, but a launch date has yet to be announced. However, we have seen the first sign of launch preparations today with Astra raising its Rocket 3 vehicle on Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s SLC-46.
Astra claims it can launch a rocket from any location in the world as long as it has a concrete pad. NASA has built LC-48 on Kennedy Space Center to service this sort of market, but it looks like Astra will take advantage of the existing pad infrastructure at SLC-46, used for a variety of launches, including NASA’s Orion abort test back in 2019, for now.
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