Astra Space Failure: Pentagon Again Doesn't Get Cheap Booster

Unbearable lightness




The situation with modern American rocket science is difficult to compare with anything: perhaps the United States has never had so many potentially revolutionary new products. First of all, we are talking about SpaceX with its partially-reusable heavy-class Falcon 9 rocket. Due to the launch price of $ 60 million (less than that of Proton-M, famous for its relative cheapness), this carrier became the most demanded of all in 2019 on the rocket launch market. In 2020, SpaceX may repeat success, and then threatens to put into operation its "monster" in the person of Big Falcon Rocket.

However, behind the beautiful shots of the first-stage landing and spectacular BFR presentations, we can see the real revolution. And it is not connected at all with SpaceX. And not at all with heavy or superheavy carriers. The fact is that the process of miniaturization of spacecraft is actively going on in the world: large and powerful carriers often seem redundant to carry out current tasks.

Understand this at the American company Rocket Lab, developed Electron light rocket, which some sources call ultralight. The main trump card carrier - price. According to previously announced data, the cost of launching a rocket is about 5 to 6,6 million dollars. Electron can put up to 250 kilograms of cargo into a low reference orbit, which is a lot for this class of missiles. Now there is no direct analogue in anyone in the world. But he will appear soon.

The most competitive rocket (at least in its segment) could be a carrier from an Astra Space startup unknown to a few years ago. The founders of the company are Adam London and Chris Kemp. The latter is a former NASA employee, that is, a person with great experience and, as practice shows, great ambitions.


What is so in the creation of Astra Space that the attention of a good half of the hemisphere is riveted to it? The fact is that with the mass of the load placed in a low reference orbit at about 150-200 kilograms, the launch price should be $ 2,5 million. At times less than that of Electron, not to mention other media. The calculation is made for companies such as Spire Global or Planet, which want to put into orbit a huge number of miniature spacecraft.

Behind the shoulders of the Astra, consisting of about 150 people, has already been several trials. On February 28, employees were supposed to complete the first space launch of the Rocket 3.0 rocket, an eleven-meter two-stage rocket that uses kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuel. But something went wrong: they could not launch it.

Did not meet deadlines


One important point to clarify here. This launch was unusual, and the matter is not only that for Astra Space it was to be the first real test of strength. The launch was an essential component of the Launch Challenge of the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects (DARPA).

According to the terms, the first company that can perform two starts in a row from different sites and with different payloads for a period of several weeks wins $ 12 million. Finally, the most interesting: Astra Space had no competitors at the time of the proposed launch. Previously, there were two, but Virgin Orbit recently decided to go out, and Vector Launch went bankrupt last year. But, as we said above, “miraculousarmsDARPA it did not help. The launch was postponed from February to the first of March, then to the second. Then it was shifted for a long time and finally announced that it would not be at all. In any case, within the terms announced by DARPA.


Thus, the Pentagon did not get what it wanted: a cheap and reliable means to launch vehicles into space. The company itself explained the actual refusal of the competition by the fact that they did not want to take risks.

“We saw some information that bothered us, so we decided that it would be better to cancel the launch and try again the next day, because if the data were correct, this would certainly lead to problems during the flight” ,

- said Chris Kemp.

The company announced its desire to repeat the test, but did not provide any data on the new launch date. “This is probably not a day or two. It's more like a week or two, ”Kemp said, commenting on the timing of the next launch. “This is definitely not a month or two.”

But the situation may be more complicated than the specialist thinks. There are difficulties along this path, and they are associated not only with the fact that the company can no longer count on funding from the US Department of Defense. For the next launch attempt, it will be necessary to amend the license of the Federal Civil Administration aviation, since this launch will no longer be connected with the competition, and the payload for launching in the face of DARPA CubeSat format satellites will be replaced by a commercial load. Well, of course, you need to eliminate the problems that made themselves felt in the first tests.

Three times - system


This incident is only part of the Pentagon’s failure to create cheap carriers. Recall that the United States in 2014-2015 worked on the ALASA project, in which spacecraft wanted to launch using the air launch method. The main platform was the F-15 Eagle fighter, which launched a rocket that would put satellites weighing up to 45 kilograms into orbit. In 2015, the program was closed: by that time it could “boast” of two failed trials.


And in January 2020, the Pentagon lost one more hope for "accessible space." Then Boeing completely suddenly refused to participate in the Experimental Spaceplane (XSP) program and closed the development of the Phantom Express. “After a detailed review, Boeing immediately terminates its participation in the Experimental Spaceplane (XSP) program,” said Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling. “Now we will redirect our investments from XSP to other Boeing programs that cover the maritime, air and space sectors.” DARPA confirmed that the company notified the agency of its decision to withdraw from the complex development program.


Phantom Express was supposed to be the epitome of savings. The device was a spacecraft with a consumable second stage, which was supposed to display satellites. The reusable carrier itself, after launch, had to come back and land like a regular airplane. Phantom Express was supposed to take off vertically, like an ordinary rocket.

Presumably, the failure of the Launch Challenge is less painful for the US Department of Defense. However, he demonstrates well that not everything that seems relatively simple and economical will work in practice.
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  1. Mavrikiy 12 March 2020 18: 05 New
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    Astra Space Failure: Pentagon Again Doesn't Get Cheap Booster
    Chichas I run away on a piglet to the handicapped Afghans, throw themselves off, help .....
    1. Su24 13 March 2020 15: 31 New
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      According to previously announced data, the cost of launching a rocket is about 5 to 6,6 million dollars


      20-25 thousand dollars per kg. What kind of cheapness is this?))
  2. rocket757 12 March 2020 18: 07 New
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    Who suffers for a long time ... well, it should work out.
    1. Andrey Mikhaylov 12 March 2020 18: 19 New
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      And not what, it won’t work out. The very goal of all this is to get money, to close the project and then close the project, the companies got money well, and lobbyists kickbacks, the system put into the stream in the United States works without failure, judging by the number of closed programs.
      1. rocket757 12 March 2020 18: 43 New
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        Private traders do not seem to be sitting on budgets, but the money of the shareholders .... this is the business of the shareholders.
        1. Mitroha 12 March 2020 18: 50 New
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          Another thing is that shareholders are often affiliated with the Pentagon. Therefore, one way or another, the budgets are sawing.
          1. EDWARD 12 March 2020 20: 47 New
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            in presentation videos from the Pentagon, and in films from Hollywood .. they do it.)
        2. The comment was deleted.
        3. Andrey Mikhaylov 12 March 2020 18: 51 New
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          On the old site you can find plans to create the Ātea-2 geophysical rocket, but after the success of 2009, they became interested in DARPA. Over the next few years, Rocket Lab developed rocket technology in collaboration with Lockheed Martin, DARPA, and the U.S. Department of Defense. In 2010
        4. Dart2027 12 March 2020 20: 44 New
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          Quote: rocket757
          Private traders do not seem to be on budgets

          I somehow doubt that all these programs are implemented privately. They are very expensive, and if there is a profit, which is a big question, it will not be very soon.
          1. rocket757 12 March 2020 21: 07 New
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            We just don’t understand what patronage, sponsorship and all that’s like, because we haven’t been taught this and we simply don’t have a history of such phenomena! Ours, those who have something to sponsor, at best, Faberge eggs and football clubs can, perhaps, talk about the real history of corporatization.
            In general, everything can be sponsors and warriors .....
            1. Dart2027 12 March 2020 21: 27 New
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              Quote: rocket757
              We just don’t understand what patronage is, sponsorship and all that

              People who have billions either have wolf fangs in addition to them, or lose their billions.
      2. ccsr 12 March 2020 18: 46 New
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        Quote: Andrey Mikhaylov
        And not what, it won’t work out. The goal of all this is to get money, to develop and then close the project,

        Indeed, since the Americans are sawing the budget in military programs, we never dreamed of - neither during the times of the USSR, nor in modern Russia. Although I understand that we will never have such financial discipline as in the USSR, but even our current cut is just children's games compared to what American manufacturers of equipment and weapons did and are doing.
        I was reminded of one American R&D, in which it was seriously substantiated that it is better for the fleet to have sailors whose physical data are average and higher, because they are better adapted to physical loads during service on the ship. Any foreman knows this with us, without any research work, so we did not need to bother with such studies.
        1. Andrey Mikhaylov 12 March 2020 18: 55 New
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          I agree with you completely.
        2. Engineer 29 May 2020 10: 20 New
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          Indeed, since the Americans are sawing the budget in military programs, we never dreamed - neither during the times of the USSR, nor in modern Russia

          In the general case, you are absolutely right
          In the case of Astra Space, everything looks pretty decent.
          100 million from venture investors
          https://techcrunch.com/2020/02/03/rocket-startup-astra-emerges-from-stealth-aims-to-launch-for-as-little-as-1m-per-flight/
          20 million from NASA and the military in R&D.
          While everything is modest
          We privateers after the scandal with Dauria in this area can not be lured
      3. knn54 12 March 2020 19: 40 New
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        "You would not chase, pop, for cheapness."
    2. smart ass 12 March 2020 18: 38 New
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      It turns out do not doubt it is only a matter of time. The main thing is to try, and not sit on the priest exactly.
      1. rocket757 12 March 2020 18: 45 New
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        There are doubts, but if you sit on the loin, there will be no doubt, but no business either.
        It’s all right for me, but if people do business, we will take success.
  3. Ravil_Asnafovich 12 March 2020 18: 57 New
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    With this money, under the very tomatoes, they’ll do something.
  4. Werwulf_1989 12 March 2020 19: 01 New
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    This is all because the NASA building is not located in a skyscraper in the form of a rocket, because of this and their failure.
    1. smart ass 12 March 2020 21: 44 New
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      Is it in the form of a rocket? I thought a trampoline
  5. Avior 12 March 2020 19: 03 New
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    A similar rocket is made by Firefly Aerospace, there, too, it is about to launch
    NASA launched a contract for several small missile projects with regular scheduled launches
    1. donavi49 12 March 2020 19: 44 New
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      No and yes.

      In general, Astra is one of a bunch of private traders who go to the 200-400kg segment to the low. It's true. Just Astra is now the first. Others a little later.

      Even the British joined, with a very tasty start-up 315 kg per 500 km, the first jump into space, already this year - https://www.skyrora.com/skyrora-xl

      Branson will fly soon. His rocket is also in a niche.


      Electron from Vallope flies firmly and clearly in June (well, maybe it will leave for + 2-3-4 weeks, but in general it definitely flies from the American site in summer). Again, Beck confirmed that this year they will try the same return on a modified prototype. If it takes off, the reyu seriously reduces the cost of many launches on Electron.

      Fireflies are still a different class, along with ABS and Relativityspace, namely 500kg. Specifically, the firefly is up to 1000kg low. By the way, they are coming soon. Very soon fly.

      1. Avior 12 March 2020 19: 54 New
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        In principle, the weight depends on the height of the orbit
        It can be seen that on the approach entire families of missiles from the minimum output weight and beyond, it will be possible to select the carrier for specific parameters of the output cargo.
        Want to do regular scheduled launches
  6. Operator 12 March 2020 19: 30 New
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    DARPA is fundamentally not looking for cheapness there - the matter is not the size of the rocket, but its design (single-stage), the method of fuel supply (displacement) and the fuel pair (oxygen + hydrogen).
  7. donavi49 12 March 2020 19: 33 New
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    A strange type of news, you can still tighten Branson, he won off with his air launch for six months already.

    If there was an order to give news about space, then the ExoMars infected with Coronovirus is better suited:
    ExoMars was postponed for two years. Including due to coronavirus
    Russian and European developers decided to postpone the launch of the ExoMars joint scientific mission for two years - in 2022. It is already second start transferwhich originally planned for 2018. According to the message of "Roskosmos", an occasion for postponement became the need for additional tests, which should confirm the complete readiness of all systems of the rover and landing platform. Other reasons for the transfer include coronavirus pandemic adversely affecting project design.

    Well, there really were problems with landing, Europeans again saved on matches, and Shmyak2.0 was quite likely.

    As a result, only Mars2020 from Nas on July 17 flies in this rapprochement.
    Inside a 1T machine with a nuclear battery, an improved version of Curiosity

    Well, the first Martian UAV
    1. MBRSS 12 March 2020 20: 30 New
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      Hmm, I found out today the news about a bummer with Exomars and there was such a sad thought that with constant future transfers of the future manned flight, we will fly to Mars in the year 2060.
  8. eklmn 12 March 2020 21: 18 New
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    DARPA Translation:
    “Defense Advanced Research Agency” and DARPA does not fund the Pentagon, as the author of the article incorrectly thinks, but Congress. The budget for 2020 includes $ 3.55bn.
    It’s not the Pentagon that’s losing money, it’s losing the agency, but it was originally conceived as “research”, i.e. losses are also laid. The main thing is not to stop, but to “think-seek-find-realize”.
    Here in this review (Russian) everything, for today, participants in the gambling race for cheap starts, not just Amer’s:
    https://lenta.ru/articles/2020/02/16/newspace/
    And more news. In March, SpaceX will launch satellites and with them several tugs of Momentus by a Russian inventor and scientist. His tugboats operate on water, i.e. The received electric energy from solar batteries is passed through water and the water is ionized and converted into plasma. These tugs will lift satellites from 300km orbit into 600km orbit and higher and make it tugs cheaper than launching them there by rocket.
    1. gridasov April 30 2020 09: 38 New
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      The very idea of ​​obtaining a plasma is not so far from the truth, however, this method will not provide sufficient process capacity and in general it is not thought out to the end.
      1. eklmn April 30 2020 14: 25 New
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        look at the company website
        https://momentus.space/
        Talk to its founder and inventor Mikhail Kokorich at his office in Rusnano or California. The idea is awesome, the price is cheap (reloading a tugboat with water is easier). And most importantly - his tugs are already in orbit.
        “... however, this method will not provide sufficient process capacity”
        I don’t understand what you mean by the Capacity of the Process (if it is a weak draft), then they don’t hide that it takes a couple of months to lift, for example, by 1000 km. But the customer is ready to wait, because cheap and full of time.
        1. gridasov April 30 2020 15: 28 New
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          You understood me very right! Not soon will a person even understand what such unsupported highly potential movement is. Why? Because a process with a different level of dynamics, distribution of vectors, etc. is necessary. Therefore, flying in an elastic medium, whether it be air, water, space or the atmospheres of other planets and other environments, this does not mean changing flight technologies. It means changing levels of energy interactions. And this is just not in the understanding of those who are now steering this business
  9. Sergey Averchenkov 12 March 2020 21: 42 New
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    Cheap and the USA are antagonistic words.
  10. Aleks2000 12 March 2020 23: 53 New
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    It happens. Because of the reduction in price, some garbage apparently got out.
    But all the same: 6 million and 3 million for the launch is not bad.
  11. Lekz 13 March 2020 13: 44 New
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    You can, of course, tinker with on the topic of crooked Americans, but for some reason I do not want to. We should think about what will happen to our commercial snacks tomorrow, when Rocket 3.0, worth only 2,5 million, will fly (of which I have no doubt)? Will we continue to boast about Gagarin's flight?
  12. honest people 15 March 2020 11: 28 New
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    Quote: Andrey Mikhaylov
    And not what, it won’t work out. The very goal of all this is to get money, to close the project and then close the project, the companies got money well, and lobbyists kickbacks, the system put into the stream in the United States works without failure, judging by the number of closed programs.

  13. honest people 15 March 2020 11: 30 New
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    Quote: MBRBS
    Hmm, I found out today the news about a bummer with Exomars and there was such a sad thought that with constant future transfers of the future manned flight, we will fly to Mars in the year 2060.

  14. gridasov April 30 2020 09: 26 New
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    Stubborn attempts to break through a concrete wall with your head fail! First of all, it is necessary to change the engines, and in their basis the principles of fuel supply. But, this is evident in the next life!