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

Astra CEO Chris Kemp told investors Thursday that the company will be no longer launch payloads with its current lightweight vehicle, Rocket 3, and will instead remanifest all launches on a considerably larger rocket that’s still under development.

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

But it looks like people – including Astra itself – are indeed thinking about it. This is particularly true after the launch failure of Astra’s TROPICS 1 mission in June, the first in a trio of launches the company conducted on behalf of NASA. That launch, much anticipated by the company and in particular Kemp, ended in loss of payload after the upper stage experienced an anomaly causing it to shut down before it reached target velocity.

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

But the switch from Rocket 3 to the larger vehicle, Rocket 4, marks a significant change in strategy that suggests a larger change in tune. The payload difference alone is seismic: Astra said it was increasing Rocket 4’s payload capacity from 300 kilograms – already a huge change from Rocket 3’s 50 kilograms — to 600 kilograms.

Kemp explained the shift to investors as one based on customer preference and market evolution. “We started talking to our customers and it was pretty clear that after two out of the four flights that we had flown were not successful, the opportunity to fly on a vehicle that has received all of this attention and energy from our team over the past year was also favorable to them,” he said. He added the company has seen increasing demand from large constellation operators for higher payload capacity and greater reliability.

What that means, concretely, is no more flights in 2022. Astra is looking at conducting several test flights of Rocket 4 and Launch System 2.0, of which Rocket 4 is part, but Kemp didn’t provide any concrete timeline as to when those test flights might take place, saying only that commencing commercial operations by next year will depend on the success of those flights.

Beyond these changes, Astra also reported growth to its space products division, specficiallhy the Astra spacecraft engine. The company has secured 103 committed orders for that engine, built off Astra’s acquisition of Apollo Fusion last year, and the company will be opening a 60,000 square foot production facility to support the manufacture of that product. The company is anticipating the sale of spacecraft engines to make up the bulk of its revenues.

The change in strategy comes on the heels of an announcement that Astra secured $100 million committed equity facility with B. Riley Principal Capital II over the next two years. That’s in addition to a $200 million cash runway the company currently has on hand.

NEWS RELATED

8vdX forays in UK, Singapore, and Australia; offers cross-border venture debt to startups

8vdX, a technology-enabled category-first venture debt marketplace for startups, has announced that it is expanding its operations in leading international geographies like the United Kingdom (UK), Singapore, and Australia.

View more: 8vdX forays in UK, Singapore, and Australia; offers cross-border venture debt to startups

Flipkart's $100 million venture arm to make seed investments in six startups

Flipkart’s $100 million venture arm to make seed investments in six startups A $100 million venture fund set up by e-commerce major Flipkart will invest up to $500,000 in six startups as part of its accelerator program. Set up in 2019, Flipkart Ventures’ publicly revealed investments include Thrasio-styled startup ...

View more: Flipkart's $100 million venture arm to make seed investments in six startups

Veterinary telehealth service Vetster launches in the UK, post expansion in the US

Vetster, a veterinary telehealth service which has raised $40M, is launching in the UK following expansion in the US. Vetster connects licensed veterinarians with pet owners via video, voice and online chat. It hopes to fill a yawning gap in provision. In the UK one in two veterinary clinics ...

View more: Veterinary telehealth service Vetster launches in the UK, post expansion in the US

Kenyan agtech iProcure raises $10.2M to grow its input supply network

The shortage of agricultural inputs like fertilizer, unpredictable prices, and the proliferation of substandard products into markets are some of the biggest challenges for Kenya’s agricultural sector. This impact is especially felt in the country because agriculture accounts for 23% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), making it the ...

View more: Kenyan agtech iProcure raises $10.2M to grow its input supply network

Tesla doesn’t need to hit the panic button over China heat wave disruptions just yet

Some parts of China are suffering from record high temperatures in the past few weeks, prompting local governments to halt industrial power use, including those of battery plants. When news reaches the West, it generates fear-mongering headlines like “China heat wave shuts Tesla suppliers” which have likely rattled investors ...

View more: Tesla doesn’t need to hit the panic button over China heat wave disruptions just yet

Feast to famine: How agritech Dehaat went from record funding to layoffs

Feast to famine: How agritech Dehaat went from record funding to layoffs Aditya Narayan Giri joined agritech startup DeHaat’s Patna office on March 17, 2022. The company assigned Giri the responsibility of developing model farms in five states: Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Bihar. Model farms are ...

View more: Feast to famine: How agritech Dehaat went from record funding to layoffs

Dodge unveils Charger EV concept that is faster and louder than a Hellcat

Dodge revealed Wednesday an EV concept that looks — and even sounds — like the gas-powered Charger muscle car that will be discontinued next year. The two-door Dodge Charger Daytona SRT Concept — the Daytona name a nod to its gas-powered ancestor’s 200 mph NASCAR track milestone — is not ...

View more: Dodge unveils Charger EV concept that is faster and louder than a Hellcat

With Ezetap in the bag, Razorpay CEO Harshil Mathur eyes top spot among omnichannel payment providers

With Ezetap in the bag, Razorpay CEO Harshil Mathur eyes top spot among omnichannel payment providers As lines blur between online payments and digital payments made for physical purchases, Razorpay is joining a host of other service providers that offer a single platform for businesses to accept online as ...

View more: With Ezetap in the bag, Razorpay CEO Harshil Mathur eyes top spot among omnichannel payment providers

Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant has been fired by her board

Crappy chargers and sky-high prices are huge roadblocks to EV adoption

Skyrora completes second stage static fire test of its flagship rocket

How Amazon’s continued expansion into healthcare could buoy the sector

Do we really need a $340, Wi-Fi enabled toaster?

Netflix’s ad-supported plan may block offline viewing, code suggests

Daily Crunch: Google will unplug its IoT Core service in August 2023

Growing and acquiring with Benchling and Benchmark on TechCrunch Live

Motion capture becomes more accessible as Rokoko raises at $80M valuation

Funding Circle co-founder unveils new Super Payments fintech venture with $27M investment

There’s a reason why US Midwest startups had fewer layoffs, Chicago VC says

Amazon is internally testing a TikTok-like feed in its app

OTHER NEWS