EXCLUSIVE: Footage from 2020 shows Astra rocket exploding during prelaunch testing

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Footage obtained by TechCrunch shows the Astra Rocket 3.0 meeting a disastrous end during prelaunch testing in March 2020.

The explosion at the Pacific Spaceport complex in Alaska was reported at the time as an “anomaly,” an industry term for any problem that deviates from the expected outcome.

“I can confirm that we have an anomaly on the launch pad,” Alaska Aerospace CEO Mark Lester said. He told local reporters at that time. “We are running our emergency checklist. We request that everyone stay away from the area to allow our crews to address the situation.

Meanwhile, Astra CEO Chris Kemp told TechCrunch at the time that the rocket “suffered an anomaly after a successful test day at Kodiak in preparation for this week's launch.” He said the company's hardware was “just vulnerable.” He told a separate publication that the company would not attempt a launch later that week and would “wait until things improve with the coronavirus before making another attempt” — in fact, there was no longer a rocket to launch.

A video clip shows the micro launcher bursting into flames. It was clarified that the vehicle did not survive. This was Astra's third orbital launch attempt.

At the time, Astra took such failures in stride. When the company came out of stealth earlier that year, confident that it could manufacture rockets in large quantities and at a lower cost, it would cost a certain amount of failure: 100% reliability was not the end goal. That's how Kemp summed it up In May 2022 interview: “The expectation that most people have is that every experiment has to be perfect,” he said. “I think what Astra has to do, really, is we have to have so many launches that nobody thinks about it.”

Astra will reach orbit for the first time in November 2021 and for the second time in March 2022.

Astra is one of the biggest success stories for space industry investors, with the startup going public in July 2021 at a $2.1 billion valuation after raising nearly $500 million for its ultra-low-cost launch plans. But those plans failed to materialize, and after months of burning cash, Astra's board quietly agreed to a take-private deal from Kemp and CTO Adam London for a stock price of just $0.50. The deal is expected to close this quarter, at which point Astra will cease trading on the Nasdaq.

Astra did not return a request for comment on the 2020 launch failure.

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