Astra’s new Rocket 4 launch vehicle will use Ursa Major’s Hadley liquid engine to power its upper stage, the two companies announced Monday.
Astra hasn’t said anything about the new upper stage engine that would power its new Rocket 4, with CEO Chris Kemp only telling investors last year that the rocket’s substantially higher payload capacity was partly due to upgrades. the motor. The engine outsourcing helps clarify how Astra was able to so quickly change its plans for Rocket 4, including doubling the payload capacity of the launch vehicle from 300 kilograms to 600 kilograms.
Rocket 4 marks a big departure for Astra, which has historically focused on extremely light, high-firing rockets. After a series of launch failures and in response to customer feedback, the company said it would be heading in a decidedly different direction. When Astra announced the switch last August, Kemp said the company was especially interested in targeting mega-constellation operators with its higher-capacity system.
Astra plans to conduct initial test launches later this year. Whether the company resumes commercial launch operations this year will depend on how those tests go, Kemp said.
Astra is the last launch company to use Ursa’s engines. Ursa also counts Phantom Space and Stratolaunch among its clients. The Colorado-based engine manufacturer also recently closed a deal with the US Air Force to deliver about 30 Hadley engines per year. In addition to Hadley, Ursa is developing a substantially more powerful Ripley engine, which will be able to generate about 10 times more thrust.
The news confirmed a long-standing rumor among space fans that the two companies had signed an agreement. Rumors began to circulate when Astra released its first payload user guide for Rocket 4 last November, and space detectives noted that the upper stage engine was listed as turbopump-powered and capable of generating approximately 6,500 pounds of thrust. People speculated that it could only be a Hadley variant, given the time and financial constraints facing Astra. Turns out they were correct.