Astra is one of dozens of companies that plan to use lightweight rockets to make frequent trips to space to drop off satellites. Astra, Rocket Lab and California-based Virgin Orbit are among the only startups that have now proven their rockets can get the job done.
While SpaceX’s Falcon rockets — which are used to haul large satellites, batches of satellites or NASA astronauts into orbit — stand at more than 200 feet tall, or roughly the height of four of Astra’s rockets stacked on top of each other, Astra is looking to compete elsewhere. The idea behind companies such as Astra is to create smaller rockets that haul less mass into space, but can be built quickly and cheaply and launched agilely.
When asked in a company Q&A posted online how Astra plans to stand out in such a crowded industry, Adam London, Astra’s founder and chief technology officer, said that “rockets are typically artisanal, crafted objects. You make one at a time, and they’re very complicated. But when you really get into it, they don’t need to be that complicated, particularly when you’re not flying people or critical national assets, and they don’t absolutely, positively have to work 100% of the time.”
In other words, Astra plans to mass produce rockets to make them cheaper, but it doesn’t put too much emphasis on having a pristine success rate.
“I just want to say how incredibly appreciative I am of our shareholders, our customers, for their patience with us,” CEO Chris Kemp told reporters Monday morning. “And, of course, for the entire team here who’s just worked so hard over the past couple of years, launch after launch, just continuing to put energy and passion into this.”
But Friday’s long-awaited successful test launch appeared to rally investors.
Kemp told reporters that Friday’s success was not without its challenges, not least of which was combating freezing temperatures in Kodiak.
The satellite that launched Friday isn’t designed to do anything useful, rather it was simply designed to simulate the weight of a real satellite. But Kemp said the company is now ready to focus on fine-tuning its rocket design, scaling up production and offering its services to paying customers.