Astra (aerospace)

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Key people
Chris Kemp (CEO)
Adam London (CTO)[1]
Number of employees
100 (2020)

Astra is a launch vehicle company based in Alameda, California. Astra was incorporated in October 2016 by Chris Kemp and Adam London.[2][3][4] Formerly known in media as "Stealth Space Company", the company formally came out as Astra Space, Inc. in a Bloomberg L.P. article by Ashlee Vance.[5] Investors include BlackRock, Advance, ACME, Airbus Ventures, Innovation Endeavors, Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and more. [6][7]


Before being reincorporated as Astra Space Inc. in 2016, Ventions, LLC was a small San Francisco based aerospace research and design firm with a 10+ year history developing aerospace technology in partnership with NASA [8] and DARPA. Ventions was founded in 2005 and located at 1142 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.

Following the 2016 reincorporation, Ventions, LLC. employees expanded to a new building at Naval Air Station Alameda, known as "Orion", due to its location at 1690 Orion Street, Alameda, CA 94501.[9][10] This former naval jet engine testing facility provided the ability to perform in-house single engine testing, as opposed to the former Ventions, LLC. test site at Castle Air Force Base. Due to Naval Air Station Alameda's vast retired runways, the company was able to perform full vehicle testing very close to their headquarters, eliminating the need for expensive and complex logistics for rocket testing.[11] However, this was diminished by choosing Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) as the only launch location.

During early to mid 2019, most non-test related employees moved from the Orion building into a new building at 1900 Skyhawk Street, Alameda, CA 94501,[12] known as "Skyhawk". This allowed a large expansion of a previously cramped machine shop, additional in house machining capabilities, and a rocket production line in anticipation of Rocket 3. Additionally, this building has a number of known chemical contaminants [13] due to its history as a Naval jet engine overhaul facility (Building 360)[12] and is now designated as part of Naval Air Station Alameda Superfund site.[14][15]

Two suborbital test flights were conducted in 2018 from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA): one on 20 July 2018 (Rocket 1.0), and one on 29 November 2018 (Rocket 2.0). Both were believed to be launch failures. However, Astra stated that both were successful and the second one was "shorter than planned".[16][3] Astra spent 2019 designing and building Rocket 3.0 integrating propulsion systems, avionics, and other pressurization/plumbing components into a high-performance electric pump-fed orbital launch vehicle.

From 2018 to 2020, Astra was a contender in the DARPA Launch Challenge; first, as one of three teams, although at this point Astra kept its involvement secret and was only referred to as "stealth startup" by the Challenge organizers. Then as the other two teams dropped out and remaining as the only team in the competition. The competition involved launching two small satellite payloads into orbit from two different launch sites in the U.S. with approximately two weeks between launches. Astra attempted to perform a launch for the Challenge in late February – early March 2020 from PSCA, but had to scrub the launch attempts and in the end, did not launch a rocket for the Challenge (due to faulty sensor data). With the competition's only remaining team (Astra) being unable to launch a rocket within the set time frame, DARPA announced the DARPA Launch Challenge closed on 2 March 2020 with no winner. The prize of US$12 million went unclaimed.[16]

On 11 September 2020, Astra attempted another orbital rocket launch, this time with their Rocket 3.1.[17] The rocket cleared the launchpad before tumbling and falling back to Earth, exploding on impact.[18]

In October 2020, Astra was selected by the U.S. Air Force's AFWERX program to pursue the development of their Rocket 5.0, although it was not clear if the selection was tied to a specific monetary award.[19]

On 15 December 2020, Astra's Rocket 3.2 nearly reached orbit after a launch from Kodiak, Alaska.[20]

On 2 February 2021, Astra announced they will be going public.[21]

On 18 February 2021, Astra announced the appointment of former Apple engineering leader Benjamin Lyon as its new chief engineer.[22]


Rocket 3.1 launch attempt.

The startup company Astra has manufactured launch vehicles for both commercial and military customers. As of 2021, Astra is attempting to launch a launch vehicle into orbit, but has not been successful. These launch vehicles are labelled "Rocket 3".

The first two rockets, Rocket 1.0 and Rocket 2.0 were test vehicles without payloads. Although their only launches were reported to be failures,[23][24] Astra later reported they were successful.[25]

Satellite bus[edit]

Astra is developing a satellite bus for customer payloads. The first prototypes are planned for launch in 2022 on Rocket 3 launch vehicles, with customer services commencing in 2023.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Team | Astra". Astra. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  2. ^ "DARPA Launch Challenge". Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Welcome | Astra". Retrieved 6 March 2020.
  4. ^ "Astra - Crunchbase Company Profile and Funding". Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  5. ^ "A Small-Rocket Maker Is Running a Different Kind of Space Race". Bloomberg. Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  6. ^ "Astra Company Financials". Crunchbase. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  7. ^ "Rocket startup Astra emerges from stealth, aims to launch for as little as $1M per flight". TechCrunch. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  8. ^ "SBIR/STTR Firm Details - Ventions, LLC | NASA SBIR and STTR Program Homepage". Retrieved 12 December 2020. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  9. ^ "City of Alameda - File #: 2017-3687 (10 minutes)". Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  10. ^ "Astra | Alameda Point Info". Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  11. ^ KGO (17 February 2018). "SKY7 spots stealthy space startup testing its rocket in Alameda". Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  12. ^ a b "Astra Space Temporary Lease Agreement" (PDF). 31 December 2018.
  13. ^ "Alameda Naval Air Station - Toxic Exposure". Retrieved 12 December 2020.
  14. ^ US EPA, OSRTI. "ALAMEDA NAVAL AIR STATION Site Profile". EPA. Retrieved 12 December 2020. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  15. ^ "Final Record Of Decision Former Naval Air Station Alameda" (PDF). March 2015. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  16. ^ a b Atkinson, Ian (2 March 2020). "Astra scrubs DARPA launch challenge attempt". Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  17. ^ September 2020, Mike Wall 12. "Astra's 1st orbital test launch fails during first-stage engine burn". Retrieved 16 September 2020.
  18. ^ Video of Rocket 3.1 Launch Attempt, Captured by Bystander in Kodiak, Alaska, retrieved 16 September 2020
  19. ^ Berger, Eric (1 October 2020). "Astra pitches larger rocket, suborbital cargo-delivery plan to Air Force". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  20. ^ "Astra narrowly misses reaching orbit on second launch". SpaceNews. 15 December 2020.
  21. ^ "Hello, Nasdaq: Astra is Going Public". Astra. 2 February 2021.
  22. ^ "Astra hires longtime Apple veteran Benjamin Lyon as chief engineer". TechCrunch. Retrieved 18 February 2021.
  23. ^ Foust, Jeff (27 July 2018). "Alaska launch shrouded in secrecy". SpaceNews. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  24. ^ Foust, Jeff (6 December 2018). "Astra Space suborbital launch fails". SpaceNews. Archived from the original on 15 December 2020. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  25. ^ "Astra scrubs DARPA launch challenge attempt". 2 March 2020. Archived from the original on 27 October 2020. Retrieved 23 March 2020.
  26. ^ Foust, Jeff (1 March 2021). "Astra's 100-year plan: Q&A with CEO Chris Kemp". SpaceNews. Retrieved 1 March 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]