All eyes on Astra – TechCrunch

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Hi folks, welcome to Max Q. This week we have rocket news from both small (Astra’s 3.3 Rocket) and very, very large (NASA’s Space Launch System). Plus more fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and some funding news too.

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Space startup-turned-public company Astra scored a big win on Tuesday, deploying customer payloads into orbit for the first time.

The 43-foot-tall rocket, designated LV0009, lifted off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday. It carried payloads for three Spaceflight Inc. customers, including a CubeSat for the Portland State Aerospace Society and a sat-to-sat communications system for NearSpace Launch. The third client has not been announced.

The successful mission comes just over a month after the Astra rocket designated LV0008 suffered a total loss of payload during the company’s first mission from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Astra’s Senior Director of Mission Management and Assurance, Andrew Griggs, said in a blog post published March 6 that the team had identified and resolved the issues that led to the failure.

Astra went public via the SPAC merger last July, joining a growing group of space companies to avoid a traditional IPO on its way to public markets. The company first reached orbit in November 2021, but it hadn’t been able to replicate that feat – until now.

Each success raises the stakes for the launch company. It’s one thing to achieve a feat once, or even twice. It’s another thing to do it over and over again. We’ll certainly be paying attention to the company’s fourth quarter earnings announcement on March 31.

rocket astra lv0009

Picture credits: astra

NASA’s super-expensive and super-huge space launch system rolls out on the launch pad

Picture credits: NASA/Michael DeMocker

Twelve years after it was first announced, NASA’s “mega moon rocket” has made its public debut. The Integrated Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft rolled out Thursday from the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, where they then made a nearly 11-hour procession to the launch pad. From there, it will undergo a number of tests to determine flight readiness, including the all-important “wetsuit rehearsal”, when the launch system is loaded with fuel and engineers practice counting. backwards.

NASA hasn’t set an exact date for SLS’s inaugural mission – Artemis 1, which will launch the agency’s ambitious Artemis program to get humans back to the moon – but it could be as soon as this summer.

It’s been a long time coming. Congress asked NASA to develop SLS to replace the space shuttle, the agency’s original workhorse, in 2010. But the project has since faced repeated setbacks and technical problems. A year ago, NASA’s Office of Inspector General released a damning report on the costs and contracts associated with the SLS program, finding that “increasing costs and delays” pushed the overall project budget well beyond the original scope.

NASA Vehicle Assembly Building, Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s Very Large Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA. Picture credits: nathanphoto/Getty Images

Russian invasion of Ukraine halts ExoMars

Russia’s war against Ukraine continues to affect the space sector. This week, the European Space Agency voted to suspend its next Mars rover mission which was due to launch this year aboard a Soyuz rocket. In light of the war in Ukraine, ESA members “recognized the current impossibility of carrying out the ongoing cooperation with Roscosmos” regarding the ExoMars mission, the agency said.

An extraordinary session of ESA’s ruling council has been convened on April 6 to discuss possible launch alternatives. It will be the first time that Europe will send a rover to the red planet.

More news from TC and beyond

  • Aquarius Space raised $650,000 in seed funding from venture capital firm Draper Associates to develop a communication system for the solar system, starting with the moon, SpaceNews reported.
  • Astranis has completed final testing of Arcturus, a MicroGEO satellite that will enter service later this year. The satellite is expected to triple the bandwidth of the state of Alaska satellite and provide broadband at a lower cost, the company said. in a report. Last year, Astranis raised a $250 million Series C that launched its valuation at $1.4 billion.
  • Axiom spacewhich provides for the first fully private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, published more details on the scientific experiments that will be carried out while the crew is on board. One of the projects will explore “self-assembly methods for construction in space”. Very cool.
  • blue origin has selected the next group of passengers who will head into suborbital space on its New Shepard rocket. It includes angel investor Marty Allen, nonprofit founder Sharon Hagle, her husband and Tricor CEO Marc Hagle, entrepreneur Jim Kitchen, and Commercial Space Technologies founder Dr. George Nield. Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson was also going to join the crew, but Blue Origin later said he would no longer be flying.
  • Celestia Aerospacea launch solutions startup, closed a €100 million ($109.5 million) round table funded by Invema Group. With the funds, Celestia is opening a nanosat production center and a development center for its launch system, Sagittarius.
  • the James Webb Space TelescopeNASA’s Deep Space Infrared Telescope, has passed key optical alignment milestones that agency scientists expect it to meet or even exceed performance expectations.
James Webb Space Telescope JWST alignment image

The JWST focused on the bright star in the center of the image to assess the alignment of its 18 mirrors. Picture credits: Nasa (Opens in a new window)

  • Sierra Space and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on technologies that could eventually be used on Orbital Reef, a commercial space station developed by Sierra, Blue Origin, Boeing and Redwire Space.
  • SpaceX sent another batch of Starlink terminals to Ukraine, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation said. on Twitter.
  • Earth orbitala contractor that designs, builds and manufactures satellites, has won a contract from Lockheed Martin to build 42 satellites for the Space Development Agency.
  • pristine orbit signed a letter of intent with the Polish Space Agency expressing the agency’s “strong interest in bringing domestic launch capability to Poland” with Virgin’s LauncherOne rocket.

The Andromeda galaxy photographed from the White Mountains of California. Picture credits: Tony Rowell/Getty Images

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