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A new player has joined the ranks of private spacefaring outfits with the ability to reach orbit, following the successful lift-off for startup Astra's launch vehicle. The achievement comes just five years after the company was established, marking a rapid emergence for the aspiring provider of small satellite launch services.

The Alameda-based Astra was incorporated in October 2016, launched its first rocket in July 2018, and then reached space for the first time in December of 2020. This made it the fastest privately-funded company to reach space.

With its own dedicated spaceport in Kodiak, Alaska, the company then set out to reach orbit in August but came up short, with one of its rocket's five main engines shutting down less than a second after lift-off. The flight was ended after two and half minutes, with the team investigating the cause of the failure through a joint probe with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The team then set its sights on the LV0007 mission, with a test payload for the US Space Force packed into the protective fairing of Rocket 3.3, an expendable two-stage rocket designed to carry 500-kg (1,100-lb) payloads to altitudes of 500 km (310 miles).

Lifting off on November 20, Astra's orbital launch vehicle fared much better this time around, successfully reaching its target altitude of 500 km at an 86-degree inclination.

Source: Astra