Aerospace company Astra just successfully launched its Rocket 3.2 vehicle - the company's first rocket to reach space. Astra now joins a growing number of U.S. rocket builders fighting to grab a share of the relatively new space transport industry.
Astra said that its rocket came just shy of reaching orbit. The company's chief executive officer, Chris Kemp, said that the vehicle had reached an altitude of 390 kilometers but its speed wasn't enough for it to reach orbital velocity. Kemp said that the outcome of the launch "far exceeded" their expectations.
Following the launch, Astra shared images captured by its rocket on Wednesday. The images showed the vehicle at the edge of space. As the launch was a demonstration mission, the rocket did not carry any satellites or other payloads.
The 40-foot tall Rocket 3.2 vehicle was launched at the company's test facility in Kodiak, Alaska on Tuesday. The size of the vehicle places it in the category of "small launch vehicles," which is primarily used to transport small satellites and vehicles into space.
Small rockets have recently become more popular due to the continued miniaturization of different technologies. Modern satellites are typically the size of mailboxes or washing machines and different companies around the world are now vying to become their couriers.
Astra said the commercial version of its rockets should be able to carry payloads of up to 100 kilograms to low Earth orbit.
Astra was founded just four years ago and is headquartered in Alameda, California. Since its establishment, the company has managed to raise more than $100 million from investors such as ACME Capital, Airbus Ventures, and Salesforce founder Marc Benioff.
The current leader in the small rocket industry is Rocket Lab - another American rocket startup. The company has launched a total of 16 million to orbit so far using its 60-foot Electron rocket. Rocket Lab's rocket is capable of carrying larger loads of up to 300 kilograms to low Earth Orbit.
Elon Musk's SpaceX also offers orbital delivery services via its "ride-share" program using its much larger Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX's 230-feet tall rocket is capable of carrying a payload of up to 22,800 kilograms to low Earth orbit.