Astra CEO Chris Kemp told investors on Thursday that the company will no longer launch payloads with its current light vehicle, Rocket 3, and that all launches will be rescheduled for a much larger rocket that is still under development.
It’s a big change for the company, which has worked on the belief that customers are willing to risk a certain number of rocket failures for the sake of more launches and lower costs. Kemp summed up the perspective for TechCrunch back in May: “I think a lot of people expect that every launch has to be perfect. I think what Astra has to do, really, is we need to have so many addresses that nobody thinks about it anymore.”
But people – including Astra herself – seem to be thinking about it. This is especially true after the failed launch of the Astra TROPICS 1 mission in June, the first of three launches by the company on behalf of NASA. That launch, much anticipated by the company and especially Kemp, ended with the loss of payload after an anomaly in the upper stage caused it to stop before reaching the target velocity.
As late as May of this year, Kemp told investors “If two out of three [TROPICS launches] they succeed, it’s not a mission failure. It’s just a lower refresh rate for the constellation.”
But the change from Rocket 3 to the larger vehicle, Rocket 4, represents a significant change in strategy that suggests a larger change of tune. The only seismic difference is the payload: Astra said it was increasing the Rocket 4’s payload capacity from 300 kilograms – already a big change from the Rocket 3’s 50 kilograms – to 600 kilograms.
Kemp explained the move to investors as one based on customer choice and market evolution. “We started talking to our customers and it was quite clear that the opportunity to fly a vehicle that had received all this attention and energy from our team for some time was not successful after two of the four flights we flew. the year was also favorable for them,” he said. He added that the company is facing increasing demand from large constellation operators for higher payload capacity and better reliability.
Concretely, that means more flights in 2022. Astra is looking at doing some test flights of Rocket 4 and Launch System 2.0, which includes Rocket 4, but Kemp didn’t provide a concrete timeline regarding when that test. flights could take place, saying that the start of commercial operations by next year will depend on the success of those flights.
Beyond these changes, Astra also reported growth in its space products division, specifically the Astra spacecraft engine. The company has received 103 committed orders for that engine, which was taken from 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 expects the sale of spacecraft engines to make up the majority of its revenue.
The change in strategy comes on the heels of the announcement that Astra has secured a $100 million committed equity facility with Capital II Principal B. Riley over the next two years. That’s on top of the $200 million cash runway the company currently has on hand.