Rocket 3.2 will take off from Kodiak, Alaska on December 15, 2020.

John Kraus / Astra

Listed rocket maker Astra will launch its first launch of the year later this month, launching a Pentagon payload into orbit.

“The Space Force is ready for a window demonstration launch that will begin on August 27,” Astra CEO Chris Kemp told CNBC.

This launch is the first of two Astra has signed as part of the US Space Force’s space test program, with the latter scheduled for later this year. The launch window runs for 16 days until September 11th.

Astra’s Rocket 3 vehicle will take off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island, Alaska. The payload is a small demonstration satellite for the Space Force.

“We are very excited to be partnering with Astra on this mission and believe this is an important cost-effective, mobile and responsive launch capability,” said Colonel Carlos Quinones, director of the space test program.

Astra stock rose 11% in trading on Thursday from its previous closing price of $ 8.25 per share.

A hotfire test of a Dolphin first stage rocket engine on March 15, 2021.

John Kraus / Astra

Astra’s shares have fallen 36% since the company completed its SPAC merger and began trading on Nasdaq. The stock had climbed above $ 15 per share in the days following its debut, but has slipped to nearly $ 8 per share in the past few weeks.

When asked about his company’s share price, Kemp said he believes “shareholders and customers alike will appreciate we are here on schedule” with the next launch of Astra, which the company says would take place this summer.

“We appreciate the patience our shareholders have with us as we build and launch rockets so we can begin generating revenue,” said Kemp.

Based in Alameda, California – on the edge of San Francisco Bay – Astra is completing preparations for the next rocket at its headquarters. Kemp noted that it would take the Astra start-up team of just a few people “a week or two in Alaska to get everything set up.”

Astra remains “on track” with a total of three product launches this year before ramping up production and operations to start at a monthly rate by the end of the year, Kemp said.

He also noted that Astra has “over 50 product launches on our backlog,” with more information expected when the company releases its second quarter results on August 12th.

Upgrades to the rocket

Astra VP of Manufacturing Bryson Gentile (left) and CEO Chris Kemp remove a protective cover from a missile fairing half.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

Astra will also be testing upgrades to its Rocket 3 system at this next launch. The company’s last launch in December reached space, but the rocket only just barely entered orbit.

“This really allows our team to review numerous upgrades to our rocket and launch system,” said Kemp.

While the previous launch “exceeded our expectations,” it also taught Astra several ways to upgrade its rocket. One of these was that the vehicle had fuel left over in both the upper and lower tier of the missile tank, so Astra has improved the propellant management system. The company also slightly lengthened the missile, adding a total of 1.5 meters, and tweaking the missile’s upper stage avionics to use only one motherboard.

“It consolidates a lot of the avionics in the first stage, so we have a lot more mass for the payload,” said Kemp.

“If this flight works we will be delighted and if not we will learn a lot,” added Kemp.

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