Astra plans first launch in Florida by new private company since SpaceX

An Astra Space rocket is prepared for launch from Florida on Saturday, Feb. 5. 2022. Photo courtesy of Astra Space

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 5 (UPI) —¬†Florida’s Space Coast plans to host a NASA space launch Saturday by the first new rocket company to launch from the region — California-based Astra Space — since SpaceX first launched from Florida over a decade ago.

Astra plans for its small rocket to lift off during a three-hour window starting at 1 p.m. EST from Complex 46 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The company previously tested its rocket in California and launched from Alaska.

The rocket will carry four very small satellites, or CubeSats, designed by NASA and university students to conduct space experiments under a 2020 NASA contract award of $3.9 million to Astra Space and two other new launch companies.

NASA’s mission name for the spaceflight is¬†ELaNa 41, which stands for Educational Launch of Nanosatellites.

Astra received final word of its fast-tracked Federal Aviation Administration license for the launch on Friday, the company announced Friday evening on Twitter.

The license is the first the agency has issued under Part 450, a new rule that attempts to streamline the licensing process.

“Astra’s new launch license was issued in just three months and it is expected to, with planned modifications, make it easier for Astra to launch at a higher frequency out of more launch sites in the United States,” publicly traded Astra announced in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Astra plans to provide a link on its website, Astra.com, for a livestream of the launch beginning at 12 noon EST.

Astra’s rocket is relatively small, at just over 38 feet, compared to SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which is more than 229 feet high.

The satellites are:

    • BAMA-1, designed by University of Alabama, to test a type of spacecraft sail that would create drag in the upper atmosphere, leading to rapid de-orbiting of the craft.
    • INCA, designed by New Mexico State University, which stands for Ionospheric Neutron Content Analyzer and will study the neutron spectrum in low-Earth orbit.
    • QubeSat, by University of California, Berkeley, which will test and characterize the effects of certain conditions on quantum gyroscopes in space.
    • R5-S1, designed by NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to demonstrate a fast and cost-effective way to build very small satellites by demonstrating some in-space camera inspection.

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