Astra Lands NASA Contract for Weather Research Satellites

Featured image: Astra’s Rocket 3.1 launches from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska on Sept. 11, 2020. (Image credit: Astra/John Kraus)

Astra, a small satellite launch startup, has landed yet another contract for three launches, this time for NASA’s TROPICS small satellite constellation. In a press release on February 26th, NASA announced the new partnership, and Astra soon made their own announcement via Twitter.

NASA’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of Small sats (TROPICS) mission is a planned constellation of six satellites spread over three missions. The missions are currently under contract for launches between January 8 and July 21 of 2022. While this mission has a horrendous acronymized name, it is a pretty cool mission. These small sats will be used to monitor the Tropics (see what they did there?) during hurricane season. The intention is to learn more about precipitation and storm structure during development over the 2022 hurricane season, which begins on June 1, 2022. The mission will net Astra $7.65 million.

Astra is a launch start up that looks to become the go to small sat launch provider for those not willing to wait for a ride share or Transporter launch with SpaceX. The company was incorporated by Chris Kemp and Adam London in 2016. Since that time they have amassed more than $150 million in revenue, and have more than 50 governmental and private satellite launches under contract.

Astra’s Rocket 3.1 seen during a wet dress rehearsal during the DARPA’s Launch Challenge in February2020. (Image credit: DARPA Launch Challenge)

While things are looking great for Astra, they have yet to actually reach orbit. Their most recent attempt in December 2020, Rocket 3.2, failed to reach orbit, coming just short of the required velocity. It was, however, touted as a success by the company. The next attempt with Rocket 3.3, which is not currently scheduled, is said to only be a software upgrade from Rocket 3.2.

Astra also recently made the news announcing on February 2 that the company would be going public on the NASDAQ by way of a SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company) merger with Holicity. This method of becoming publicly-traded is not new to the space industry, as the same IPO tactic was used by Virgin Galactic in 2019 to become the first publicly-traded New Space company.


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