Astra Space Set to Launch From Alaska

Astra Space is set for the first flight of its new small-satellite launcher on Thursday from Alaska.

The FAA has granted a launch license to the California company for a suborbital flight of Rocket 1 from Launch Pad 2 at the Pacific spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island.

A notice to airmen (NOTAM) about the launch has been posted for April 5 at 2000 UTC and ending on April 6 at 0200 UTC (12 to 6 p.m. AKDT /4 to 10 p.m. EDT).

Details are sparse about the company and booster. However, it is believed that the two-stage rocket will be capable of placing a payload weighing up to 100 kg into orbit.

The Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which runs the Kodiak spaceport, has billed the flight as the first of what it hopes will be many commercial launches from the underused facility.

Formerly known as Ventions LLC, Astra Space is operating under a $2 million contract with NASA to develop and flight test a high performance electric pump-fed launch vehicle. The 18-month contract runs through mid-December.

Founded in 2004, the company has been awarded 29 contracts worth nearly $21 million over the past 11 years from NASA, U.S. Air Force, DARPA, Missile Defense Agency and the U.S. Army.

A Closer Look at Astra Space

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

At some point in the next few weeks, the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska will host its first commercial rocket launch. Officials at the Alaska Aerospace Corporation, which runs the spaceport, are hoping the suborbital test flight is the first of many commercial flights from the underused facility.

While officials have not identified the California company conducting the launch, a perusal of the corporation’s board minutes indicate it is almost certainly a small Bay Area startup named Astra Space.

(more…)

Take a Look at this Smallsat Booster in Alameda

The rocket in the picture is being developed by Astra Space, Inc., which was formerly known as Ventions, before the company reincorporated under its present name in September 2016, according to documents on file with the City of Alameda.

Astra Space moved into Building 397 in the Alameda Point Enterprise Zone under a license from the city on Nov. 22, 2016. In January 2017, the City Council approved a two-year lease with three one-year renewal options on Jan. 3, 2017. The base rent began at $12,134.50 per month.

“Astra Space designs, tests, manufactures, and operates next-generation launch services that will enable a new generation of global communications, earth observation, precision weather monitoring, navigation, and surveillance capabilities,” according to a synopsis prepared for the council.

The company started with about 25 employees in the building with plans to grow to as many as 100 employees within five years, according to city documents.

The booster burns kerosene and liquid oxygen, the records state.

NASA Partners With 8 Companies in Spacecraft, Launch Technology

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is partnering with eight U.S. companies to advance small spacecraft and launch vehicle technologies that are on the verge of maturation and are likely to benefit both NASA and the commercial space market.

These partnerships are the result of a solicitation released in August 2016 by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), titled Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Tipping Point Technologies. They mark the second round of public-private opportunities that enable industry to develop promising commercial space technologies that also may benefit future NASA missions.

(more…)

NASA Selects Propulsion SBIRs & STTRs

NASA LOGOAs I was looking through NASA’s recent small business selection announcement for propulsion-related projects, I have found that the space agency has selected 29 Small Business Innovation Research and 8 Small Business Technology Transfer proposals for funding.

The proposals cover a wide range of areas, including in-space propulsion for CubeSats to technologies for new launch vehicles. Several proposals are also focused on in-space propellant depots.

A list of the selected projects with links to the proposals follows.

(more…)

LauncherOne’s Long & Winding Road to Orbit: A Timeline

LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
LauncherOne stage separation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

If the current schedule holds, Virgin Galactic’s revamped LauncherOne program will enter commercial service sometime in 2018 after roughly a decade of development. During that period, the program has been redefined several times, lost two of the key people hired to lead it, and changed its launch platform from WhiteKnightTwo to a jumbo jet. The estimates for the initial flight tests also have slipped by about  four years from 2013 to 2017.

Below is a timeline of the program’s major events, milestones, announcements, hires and departures, and other things. Feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything significant.

(more…)

Ventions Selected for 2 SBIR Phase I Contracts

Engine hot fire (Credit: Ventions)
Engine hot fire (Credit: Ventions)

NASA has selected Ventions, LLC of San Francisco for two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I awards to develop propulsion systems for use in space and on other worlds.

One proposal involves the development of small-scale, methane-fueled reaction control engines for in-space propulsion.

(more…)

DARPA’s SeeMe Program Targeted for Cancellation

Space News reports that the Senate Appropriations Committee wants to cancel DARPA’s Space Enabled Effects for Military Engagements (SeeMe) project, which aims to develop a constellation of low-cost imaging satellites capable of delivering data to handheld devices in real time.

The committee has nixed $10.5 million from the FY 2014 budget that the agency would use to finish tests on six prototype satellites and receiving technology. The House does not mention the program in its bill.

Left unanswered is the fate of DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access (ALASA) program, which is intended to launch the SeeMe satellites. ALASA’s goal is to quickly launch 100-pound spacecraft into orbit for $1 million apiece. If the SeeMe program is cancelled, would ALASA follow?

Last year, DARPA awarded the following ALASA contracts to six companies:

Launch System Design and Development Concepts

  • Lockheed Martin Corp., Palmdale, Calif.: $6.2 million
  • Boeing, Huntington Beach, Calif., $4.5 million
  • Virgin Galactic, Las Cruces, N.M.

Enabling Technologies

  • Northrup Grumman, El Segundo, Calif., $2.3 million
  • Space Information Laboratories LLC, Santa Maria, Calif., $1.9 million
  • Ventions LLC, San Francisco, Calif., $969,396.

Ventions Rocket to Launch from NASA Wallops

Launch complexes on Wallops Island, Virginia

WALLOPS ISLAND, VA (NASA PR) – NASA will support the test flight of a commercial suborbital rocket between 6 and 9 a.m. EST, November 7, from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The backup launch days are November 8 – 14.

Ventions VR-1 is a 10.6 feet tall, 6-inch diameter liquid-fueled rocket from Ventions LLC. It is projected to fly to about 3 miles altitude during its nearly 3.5 minute flight.

The launch may be seen in the Wallops area.

Mission status on launch day also can be followed on Twitter and Facebook at: www.twitter.com/NASA_Wallops and www.facebook.com/NASAWFF

Mission status also is available on the Wallops launch status line at 757-824-2050.