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... The Pentagon’s R&D arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or Darpa, made Astra one of three finalists in a contest called the Launch Challenge. The terms: Whichever startup could send two rockets from different locations with different payloads within a few weeks of each other would win $12 million.
Astra is the only finalist still in the running. Virgin Orbit, part of billionaire Richard Branson’s spaceflight empire that’s been working on its rocket for about a decade, has withdrawn from the contest. Vector Launch Inc., the third finalist, filed for bankruptcy in December. That’s left Astra in a competition against itself and physics, which may be why Kemp, a relentless ball of confident energy who dresses in head-to-toe black, is uncharacteristically trying to set modest expectations for the Kodiak launch.
The jumbo end of the market centers on rockets that fly roughly once a month and cost $60 million to $300 million per launch, typically carrying tons of cargo. Astra says its daily launches, meant to carry about 450 pounds of cargo to orbit, will be pitched to the dozens of companies making a new breed of small satellites, such as Planet Labs, Spire Global, and Swarm Technologies.