California-based launch company Astra's Rocket 3.2 is shown on the launch pad in Alaska before liftoff Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Astra
Dec. 15 (UPI) -- California-based space company Astra launched a demonstration rocket into space for the first time Tuesday afternoon from Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska on Kodiak Island.
"Karman Line passed," the company said on Twitter after the launch, referring to what many astronomers consider to be the boundary of space, about 62 miles high.
The vehicle, Rocket 3.2, flew high enough to enter orbit, but fell just short of orbital velocity, according to the company.
The company is focused on building rockets quickly, in assembly-line fashion "like people build cars," Astra co-founder Adam London has said. It also has attempted to make the rocket and its launchpad equipment highly adaptable to climate and location variables.
As a startup, Astra previously conducted two launch tests with rockets that didn't reach space. One of those ended abruptly, but the company didn't release information about it.
The company in May had been a finalist in a government-sponsored DARPA Launch Challenge, but failed to launch on time due to severe weather and so did not earn the $12 million prize.
Astra's rocket is relatively small at just over 38 feet, compared to SpaceX's Falcon 9, which is more than 229 feet high. The Electron rocket used by another small launch company, Rocket Lab, is 56 feet high.
Astra, based in Alameda, Calif., near San Francisco, says it can carry up to 330 pounds into low orbit. Astra includes former NASA and SpaceX executives, led by Chris Kemp, a former NASA chief technology officer.
Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Fla., on Sunday. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo