Astra prepares for TROPICS launch campaign

Small launch vehicle developer Astra says it is ready to perform a series of launches for NASA once it receives a license for those missions.

Astra at SLC-46
Astra, which conducted a launch of its Rocket 3.3 vehicle from Cape Canaveral in February, will return for three launches of NASA’s TROPICS satellites later this quarter. Credit: Astra/John Kraus

In a May 5 earnings call, Astra executives said they were ready to perform the first of three launches of its Rocket 3.3 vehicle from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station carrying cubesats for NASA’s Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation Structure and Storm Intensity with a Constellation of SmallSats (TROPICS) mission. The six satellites will be launched on three Rocket 3.3 vehicles over a relatively short period.

“The rockets are ready,” Kelyn Brannon, chief financial officer of Astra, said during the call. “What we’re waiting on is the license for all the three launches, under one license.”

In a separate blog post May 6, Donald Allen, senior director of program management-operations at Astra, said the company expected to receive the Federal Aviation Administration launch license “in the next few weeks.” He did not state how soon after receiving the license he expected the first of the three launches to take place.


Astra was also unusually critical of outside estimates of its launch plans. “There is a lot of speculation online about our launch dates and even websites that publish our supposed launch dates; these websites are not a reliable source of information as they do not have access to all of the data necessary to determine a launch date,” Allen wrote (emphasis in original.)

While the company expects to perform the launches in quick succession from Space Launch Complex 46, which hosted an unsuccessful Rocket 3.3 launch in February, the company does not expect to complete all three launches by the end of the quarter.

Astra’s Rocket 3.3 lifts off from Cape Canaveral Feb. 10. The launch failed when the upper stage appeared to tumble after stage separation. Credit: Astra Space/NASASpaceFlight.com

“It’s going to be a pretty rapid cadence,” Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, said on the call, but added the company would have to work around weather and range constraints. “The objective is to start this campaign this quarter and get as many launches done this quarter as we can, but it is likely that we’re not going to be able to get them all done by the end of the quarter.”

“This is a mission that we would like to complete before the storm season,” he added. He didn’t elaborate on “storm season,” but the Atlantic hurricane season, as defined by the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center, starts June 1, before the end of the quarter.


This article first appeared on SpaceNews.com

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