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Astra changes strategy and abandons current rocket following launch debacles – TechCrunch


Astra CEO Chris Kemp told investors on Thursday that the company would no longer launch payloads with its current light vehicle, Rocket 3, and instead remanifest all launches on a significantly larger rocket that is still in production. development course.

It’s a big shift for the company, which has operated on the hunch that customers are willing to risk a number of rocket failures in favor of increased launch cadence and lower costs. Kemp summed up the prospect at TechCrunch in May: “I think a lot of people expect every launch to be perfect. I think what Astra needs to do, really, is we need to have so many launches that nobody thinks about it anymore.”

But it seems people – including Astra itself – are actually thinking about it. This is especially true after the failed launch of Astra’s TROPICS 1 mission in June, the first of a trio of launches the company has carried out on behalf of NASA. This launch, highly anticipated by the company and in particular by Kemp, ended in a loss of payload after the upper stage suffered an anomaly causing it to stop before it reached the target speed.

As recently as May this year, Kemp told investors that “if two out of three [TROPICS launches] succeed, it is not a failure of the mission. It’s just a lower refresh rate for the constellation.

But Rocket 3’s move to the bigger vehicle, Rocket 4, marks a significant shift in strategy that suggests a bigger change of pace. The payload difference alone is seismic: Astra said it’s increasing Rocket 4’s payload capacity from 300 kilograms – already a huge change from Rocket 3’s 50 kilograms – to 600 kilograms.

Kemp explained that the switch to investors was based on customer preferences and market developments. “We started talking to our customers and it was pretty clear that after two of the four flights we had done had been unsuccessful, the opportunity to fly a vehicle that had received all this attention and energy from our team over the past year has also been favorable to them,” he said. He added that the company has seen growing demand from large constellation operators for higher payload capacity and greater reliability.

Concretely, this means that there will be no more flights in 2022. Astra plans to carry out several test flights of Rocket 4 and Launch System 2.0, of which Rocket 4 is a part, but Kemp did not provide any timetable specific about the timing of these tests. flights could take place, saying only that the start of commercial operations by next year will depend on the success of these flights.

Beyond these changes, Astra has also seen growth in its space products division, in particular the Astra spacecraft engine. The company has secured 103 committed orders for this engine, stemming from Astra’s acquisition of Apollo Fusion last year, and the company will open a 60,000 square foot production facility to support manufacturing of this product. The company expects the sale of spacecraft engines to make up the bulk of its revenue.

The change in strategy follows the announcement that Astra has secured a $100 million committed capital facility with B. Riley Principal Capital II over the next two years. This is in addition to a $200 million cash trail the company currently has.

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