Astra changes strategy and ditches current rocket in the wake of launch debacles – TechCrunch

Astra CEO Chris Kemp told investors Thursday that the company will no longer launch payloads on its current lightweight vehicle, the Rocket 3, and will instead re-manifest all launches on a significantly larger rocket still in development.

It’s a big shift for the company, based on the premise that customers are willing to risk a certain number of missile failures in exchange for higher launch frequency and lower cost. Kemp summed up the perspective to TechCrunch back in May: “The expectation I think a lot of people have is that every launch has to be perfect. I think what Astra really has to do is we have to have so many starts that nobody thinks about it anymore.

But it looks like people – including Astra himself – are actually considering it. This is especially true after the launch failure of Astra’s TROPICS-1 mission in June, the first of three launches the company conducted on behalf of NASA. This launch, much anticipated by the company and by Kemp in particular, ended in a payload loss after the upper stage experienced an anomaly that caused it to shut down before it reached target speed.

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

But the move from Rocket 3 to the larger vehicle, Rocket 4, marks a significant shift in strategy that suggests a major change in mood. The payload difference alone is massive: Astra said it increases the Rocket 4’s payload capacity from 300kg – already a huge change from the Rocket 3’s 50kg – to 600kg.

Kemp explained the shift towards investors as one based on customer preferences and market developments. “We started talking to our customers and it was pretty clear that after two out of four flights we’d flown, the opportunity to fly a vehicle that had received all this attention and energy from our team in the past, The unsuccessful year was also favorable for them,” he said. He added that the company is seeing increasing demand from operators of large constellations for higher payload capacity and greater reliability.

In concrete terms, 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, which includes Rocket 4, but Kemp has not given a specific timeline for those tests, saying only that commercial operations could begin by next year from success of these flights will depend.

In addition to these changes, Astra also reported growth in its space products division, particularly in the Astra spacecraft engine. The company has received 103 firm orders for this engine, which resulted from Astra’s acquisition of Apollo Fusion last year, and the company will open a 60,000 square foot manufacturing facility to support the manufacture of this product. The company expects spacecraft engine sales to account for the bulk of its revenue.

The strategy change follows an announcement that Astra has secured $100 million in committed equity at B. Riley Principal Capital II over the next two years. Add to that $200 million in cash that the company currently has at its disposal. Astra changes strategy and ditches current rocket in the wake of launch debacles – TechCrunch

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