Astra furloughs and lays off a fifth of its workforce

The smallsat rocket company Astra Space recently reduced its workforce from 150 to 120, with most of those let go furloughed for three months during the Wuhan flu panic with some laid off entirely.

This reduction appears due mostly because of the panic, as it has killed their efforts to raise more investment capital. However, the “anomaly” that caused the complete loss of a rocket during countdown a few weeks ago might also have contributed. According to this article, which gives some more details of that “anomaly,” which apparently was a fire that destroyed the rocket, caused by “an unfortunate mistake.”

Private rocket failure in Alaska

Capitalism in space: A suborbital test launch of a private company on July 20 likely failed almost immediately after launch.

On July 20, the California-based company Astra Space carried out a suborbital launch of its “Rocket 1” from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska. The rocket took off in foggy conditions, so there wasn’t much to see, but the launch could still be heard, according to local reporter Gabe Stutman. But other than the fact that Rocket 1 launched, no one seems to know what happened next.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said, in a statement to SpaceNews, that the rocket “experienced a mishap.” Many have taken this to mean that, at some point after the rocket launched, it failed in some way. But Craig Campbell, president of Alaska Aerospace, which operates the launch site, told SpaceNews that Astra Space is “very pleased” with how the launched turned out.

I must admit that I completely missed this event, when it happened. However, it appears that the company experienced some form of failure, not unlike what happened to the recent launch of Interstellar’s MOMO rocket. Since this is a test launch, even a failure is of value however, as it can tell them what is wrong with their rocket.

The mysterious upcoming commercial launch in Alaska

Link here. The article takes a detailed look to try to find out the unnamed commercial company behind the mid-April launch, and learns that it will be a suborbital launch, and that the company might be one called Astra Space.

Alaska Aerospace signed a contract with Astra Space in 2017 to support launches of that company’s vehicle from PSCA, according to the minutes of an Alaska Aerospace board of directors meeting in August 2017.

Alaska Aerospace “has a contract with Astra to support the first four launches of their small liquid fuel commercial launch vehicle from PSCA. The first launch is planned for December 2017,” the minutes state. It added that it would be the first liquid-propellant launch from the spaceport, which previously had hosted only solid-fuel rockets. “This will be a very innovative launch.”

Minutes from a Nov. 2 meeting of the Alaska Aerospace board stated that “Astra is moving forward” with plans, holding weekly planning teleconferences and paying a $100,000 deposit for a launch date. That launch was planned at that time for “possibly February or later.”

It appears the company is doing work for both NASA and DARPA, the latter of which might explain the secrecy. Or maybe the company is taking the Blue Origin approach, keeping things close to the vest until they are sure of success.