A California spaceflight company’s quest to win a $12 million launch competition won’t kick off tomorrow (Feb. 25) after all.
Astra, a startup based in the Bay Area, had aimed to loft its first orbital mission tomorrow from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Alaska, as part of the DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Launch Challenge. But bad weather has intervened.
“Due to a major winter weather event expected to impact the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska on 2/25, the next available launch window for the @DARPA #LaunchChallenge will be determined when conditions improve, and the launch countdown clock will be adjusted accordingly,” DARPA officials said via Twitter today (Feb. 24).
Due to a major winter weather event expected to impact the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska on 2/25, the next available launch window for the @DARPA #LaunchChallenge will be determined when conditions improve, and the launch countdown clock will be adjusted accordingly. pic.twitter.com/FFa8qa7LXOFebruary 24, 2020
The DARPA Launch Challenge aims to spur the development of private American rockets that can loft small military satellites cheaply, efficiently and frequently. The contest calls for two launches on short notice and a quick turnaround. The original timeline called for Astra’s new 38-foot-long (11.6 meters) Rocket 3.0 to loft the first mission between tomorrow and March 1, and the second one by March 18.
A successful first flight would net the company $2 million, and acing the second would earn an additional $10 million.
Astra was founded in 2016 but only came out of stealth mode this month. While the company has performed a number of ground tests, it has yet to launch an orbital mission.
Eighteen companies expressed interest in the DARPA Launch Challenge when it was announced in 2018, but just three — Astra, Virgin Orbit and Vector Launch — advanced to become full participants. Astra is the only one still vying for the prize.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.