OCT 7, 2021- Astra’s Rocket 3 launch vehicle looks set to fly from Launch Complex 48. Astra has filed with the FCC to allow for launches from Kennedy Space Center as soon as December 1, 2021. It is unknown what payload the launch will carry, if any.
Up until now, Astra has only launched their Rocket family of launch vehicles from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska. This site offers a number of advantages for the formerly secretive company, including a much more open launch schedule due to the lack of launches compared to other sites. However, its northern latitude limits the number of orbits Astra can launch to.
Since its first launch back in September of 2020, Rocket 3 has undergone a number of upgrades. These include stretching the first stage tanks, lightening the upper stage, and numerous other small improvements throughout the vehicle.
Unfortunately, Rocket 3 has only seen limited flight success thus far. Over its three test flights, only one has reached space, with the other two failing during first stage flight. Despite these setbacks the vehicle has already won numerous launch contracts, including the $7.95 million TROPICS mission for NASA. This contract currently has three launches slated to fly from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The upcoming mission for Astra will also be the first time since January 15, 1987 that a brand new launch complex was used for a launch out of Florida. Launch Complex 48 (LC-48) is the newest launch site to be built since Space Launch Complex 46 finished construction in 1986. LC-39C was originally built in the grounds of LC-39B to fill the same role as LC-48, but due to the primary flight requirements of SLS and a higher than expected interest in the pad, NASA elected to build LC-48 on Kennedy Space Center property.
The design of LC-48 is catered to small launchers that bring a majority of their launch equipment with them, including the launch mount, fueling tanks, and other ground support equipment. The complex does feature a water retention pond to support a small sound suppression system should a vehicle need one. The current environmental assessment from the FAA allows LC-48 to be used for up to 52 launches per year, though this may increase as there are plans to build a second near-identical launch pad at the site.
With Astra’s Rocket 3 now slated to begin launching from Florida, this lets them provide service to a new set of orbital planes, opening the door for numerous potential payloads that may have previously considered other more expensive providers.