Mar 3, 2020 - Science

DARPA launch challenge ends with no winner

An Astra rocket stands tall against a sea of clouds in Alaska

Astra's Rocket 3.0 in Alaska. Photo: DARPA

A $12 million DARPA challenge that pushed the limits of what private rocket companies can do ended without a winner on Monday.

Why it matters: The lack of a winner two years after the competition began shows the challenges companies building small rockets face when it comes to technology development, finances and even the market for their services.

Driving the news: The contest required that teams launch two rockets from two locations on short notice, but the final team — the company Astra — wasn't able to stage its first launch in the timeframe set out by DARPA.

The big picture: The challenge was designed to simulate a real scenario in which the government would need eyes on a particular target that couldn't be seen easily or safely through other means, necessitating that they launch new satellites to orbit.

  • "We think that even being able to get to the point we got to will demonstrate to folks that this is something that is right on the cusp of the possible," Todd Master, DARPA program manager for the competition, said during a webcast of the launch attempt.

Details: An issue involving the guidance and navigation system of Astra's Rocket 3.0 canceled the launch on Monday and effectively ended the DARPA challenge.

  • Monday's launch attempt from Alaska was the final one allowed under the rules of the DARPA competition.
  • Astra isn't giving up on its vehicle, however.
  • The company plans to stage another launch attempt soon, though they don't have a date on the books yet.
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