The ranks of orbit-capable spaceflight companies just grew ever so slightly. TechCrunch reports Astra has reached orbit for the first time when its Rocket 3 booster launched shortly after 1AM Eastern today (November 20th). The startup put a mass simulator into a 310-mile-high orbit as part of a demonstration for the US Air Force's Rapid Agile Launch Initiative, which shows how private outfits could quickly and flexibly deliver Space Force payloads.
This success has been a long time in coming. Astra failed to reach orbit three times before, including a second attempt where the rocket reached space but didn't have enough velocity for an orbital insertion.
Company chief Chris Kemp stressed on Twitter that Astra was "just getting started" despite the success. It's a significant moment all the same. Companies and researchers wanting access to space currently don't have many choices — they either have to hitch a ride on one of SpaceX's not-so-common rideshare missions or turn to a handful of options like Rocket Lab. Astra hopes to produce its relatively modest rockets quickly enough that it delivers many small payloads in a timely fashion. That, in turn, might lower prices and make space more viable.