Astra LV0007 launch (Source Brady Kenniston, Astra)

Astra places first customer into orbit

Late Friday night, Astra Space successfully put its first customer into orbit, launching a test payload for the United States Space Force. The launch took place from the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska on the evening of November 19, 2021.

“Reaching orbit is a historic milestone for Astra,” said Chris Kemp, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Astra. “We can now focus on delivering for our customers and scaling up rocket production and launch cadence.”

The Astra’s Rocket 3.0 series launch vehicle successfully showed it can put a payload into low earth orbit, with the 50 kilogram test payload reaching 500 kilometers at an inclination of 86 degrees. This was the fourth attempt to reach orbit with the low-cost, mass produced rocket.  The company’s three previous attempts to reach orbit had various glitches, including a spectacular “sideways” launch in August 2021.

With Friday’s successful launch, Astra has a manifest of 2022 launches for NASA and several commercial customers, including Planet and Spire Global. Astra is planning to conduct operations monthly and has several Rocket 3.3 vehicles built. Depending on the customer’s requirements, launches will initially take place from Alaska or Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific.

Astra’s value proposition is to build a mass produced rocket that can be launched on a regular – ultimately daily – basis.  With the success of the Friday launch, the company is now focusing on building a larger Rocket 4.0 capable of delivering several hundred kilograms to LEO that will be flown weekly.

But Astra’s ambitions go far beyond launch. The company is building a full-service space company encompassing building, launching, and operating satellites for customers. According to an August 2021 investor presentation, the company is working to drop its cost to build rockets down to $1 million each by 2023 in quantities of 30 or more with a 2025 goal to further lower the cost to $500,000 each at a scale of 300 or more rockets.

Lower launch costs would provide Astra with the means to expand into building and operating constellations. This month the company applied with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to get V-band spectrum to operate a broadband network, initially starting with 20 to 40 satellites, then scaling upward with a possibility of operating 13,000 satellites longer term.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *