The regiment of companies capable of launching cargo into Earth’s orbit has arrived – the lightweight Rocket 3.3 of the American startup Astra has successfully launched the first stage into an orbit at an altitude of 500 km with an inseparable test load (its mass is not reported).
Astra Rocket 3.3 consists of two stages and is equipped with kerosene engines (five in the first stage, one in the second). The length of the rocket is 11.6 m, the maximum payload at an altitude of 500 km is 150 kg. The company’s launch pad is located in Alaska, which, compared to Cape Canaveral in Florida, imposes additional requirements on the carrying capacity of the rocket.
Yesterday’s launch was the fourth test in a row – the previous three ended in failure. Astra was founded in 2016 and has been conducting trials since 2020. The startup is developing a rocket with a payload capacity of 500 kg to an altitude of 500 km.
To date, the list of private startups that have completed at least one successful orbital launch of a ground launch is represented by three companies:
|NS||Launch price||Height, diameter, launch weight||Payload (LEO)||Year of foundation / start of tests / first success||Number of all company launches|
|SpaceX||Falcon 1||$ 7 million
($ 16.7 thousand / kg)
|F 1 — 5
F 9 — 131
FH — 3
|Rocket Lab||Electron1||$ 7.5 million
($ 30 thousand / kg)
|Astra||Rocket 3.32||$ 2.5 million
($ 16.7 thousand / kg)
1 The first missile was the tea-1, a 6-meter “racket” with a mass of 60 kg and a payload of 2 kg at an altitude of 120 km. In 2009, its only test launch took place.
2 The first missile was the Rocket 1, which was tested in 2018.
As you can see, the cost of launching 1 kg of payload per LEO for Rocket 3.3 is the same as for Falcon 1 (2006-2009).
According to NewSpace Index, to date, 180 companies and scientific organizations around the world have been dealing with light ground and air launch rockets. Dozens of them have been canceled or are inactive, most of the rest are in development. If we restrict ourselves to private startups that are already testing or at least created a light orbital ground launch rocket, then very few companies will remain:
|NS||Launch price||Height, diameter||Payload (500 km)||Start of development / first test|
|ABL Space Systems||RS-1||$ 12 million
($ 12 thousand / kg)
|Firefly Aerospace||Alpha||$ 15 million
($ 23.8 thousand / kg)
September 2021 (bad luck)
|Relativity Space||Terran-1||$ 12 million
($ 13.3 thousand / kg)
LauncherOne of the private American company Virgin Orbit can be called in the category of operating light air-launched missiles. A two-stage rocket 21 m long and 1.8 m in diameter is suspended from a Boeing 747-400, which raises it to a height of 10-11 km, where it detaches and flies on its own. Its payload into an orbit with an altitude of 230 km – up to 500 kg, 500 km – up to 300 kg. Virgin Orbit has been developing this rocket since 2007, the cost of one launch is estimated at $ 12 million. The first successful launch into orbit of LauncherOne took place in January this year, and in June it launched 7 satellites into orbit with an altitude of 510 km. A similar scheme was used for the American Pegasus cruise missile (Orbital Sciences Corporation). From 1990 to 2016, 44 launches were made, the cost of one launch in 2014 was $ 56 million (almost 5 times more expensive than LauncherOne).
All of the aforementioned rockets are two-stage. Terran-1 runs on methane, the rest run on kerosene (with liquid oxygen as an oxidizing agent). The height of light rockets ranges from 12 to 35 m, diameter – from 1.2 to 2.3 m, payload – from 150 kg to 1 ton. For comparison, below are the characteristics of rockets created at the dawn of astronautics:
|First start [спутника]||Number of steps||Height, diameter, launch weight||Satellite mass|
|V-2 (Germany)||1944 (188 km, suborbital flight)||1||14 m
|R-7 Sputnik (USSR)||1957||2||29 m
|Jupiter-C (USA)||1958||3||21.3 m
Already on January 2, 1959, a three-stage modification of the R-7, Luna, reached the second space station with a 361-kilogram Luna-1 station. We can say that, in terms of their functionality, light rockets of current private [американских] startups have reached the level of astronautics 63 years ago. And this is a real revolution, since now such missiles are launched not by superpowers, but by small private companies. By words the founder of the most successful (apart from SpaceX) of young space startups, Rocket Lab, the project to create Electron cost $ 100 million – an incredibly modest amount by the standards of space (literally and figuratively) budgets of the USSR and the United States half a century ago.
As for the cost of launches, as can be seen from the tables above, it ranges from $ 12,000 to $ 30,000 per kilogram of cargo delivered to LEO. These prices are quite comparable with those that such large corporations as Roskosmos and NASA offered their customers a few years ago, but 4-10 times more than the price that SpaceX can afford when launching with the preservation of the first stage ($ 3.2 thousand per 1 kg) … However, the big advantage of light rockets remains the overall launch price. If you need to launch one satellite weighing several hundred kilograms, and at the same time it does not have “fellow travelers” (which does not allow using the Smallsat Rideshare Program or its equivalent), then the “rackets” of private startups are the best solution.
Using data Everyday Astronaut
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Astra: another full member of the space club | Gadgets News