Aster On Thursday, CEO Chris Kemp told investors that the company will no longer launch payloads on its current lightweight Rocket 3 rocket, but will instead conduct all launches on a significantly larger rocket that is still under development.
This is a big change for a company that believed customers were willing to risk a certain number of missile failures in favor of increased launch frequency and lower costs. Kemp summed up the perspective at TechCrunch back in May: “I think a lot of people expect every launch to be perfect. I think really Astra should do so many launches that no one else is thinking about it.”
But it seems that people, including Astra itself, really think about it. This is especially true following the unsuccessful launch of the Astra TROPICS 1 mission in June, the first of three launches the company has conducted on behalf of NASA. This launch, which the company and, in particular, Kemp, has been waiting for ended in payload loss after an anomaly occurred on the upper stage that caused it to shut down before reaching its target speed.
Back in May of this year, Kemp told investors that “if two out of three [TROPICS launches] successful, it’s not mission failure. It’s just a lower refresh rate for the constellation.”
But the move from Rocket 3 to the larger vehicle, Rocket 4, marks a major shift in strategy that involves a bigger change in tune. The difference in payload alone is seismic: Astra said it is increasing Rocket 4’s payload capacity from 300kg – already a huge change from Rocket 3’s 50kg – to 600kg.
Kemp explained the move to investors as being based on customer preferences and market evolution. “We started talking to our customers and it became very clear that after two of the four flights we took were unsuccessful, the opportunity to fly the vehicle that got all this attention and energy from our team last year was also good for them,” he said. He added that the company is seeing growing demand from large constellation operators for higher payload capacity and greater reliability.
Specifically, this means that there will be no more flights in 2022. Astra is considering conducting several test flights of Rocket 4 and Launch System 2.0, of which Rocket 4 is a part, but Kemp did not provide any specific timeline as to when those test flights could take place, saying only that the start of commercial operations next year would depend on the success of these flights.
In addition to these changes, Astra also announced growth in its space products division, especially Astra spacecraft engines. The company received 103 confirmed orders for this engine. Astra’s acquisition of Apollo Fusion last yearand the company will open a 60,000 square foot manufacturing facility to support the production of this product. The company expects the sale of spacecraft engines to be the bulk of its revenue.
The change in strategy follows the announcement that Astra will raise $100 million in equity in B. Riley Principal Capital II over the next two years. This is in addition to the $200 million cash streak the company currently has on hand.
Credit: techcrunch.com /