Now that every rocket launch is shown live on YouTube, millions of people may watch a space company’s triumphs and mistakes up close. Astra, a rocket startup that went public, has experienced both. However, according to CEO Chris Kemp, the goal is not perfection. He told TechCrunch, “The expectation I believe a lot of people have is that every launch needs to be great.” “I believe what Astra really has to do is have so many launches that nobody even notices,” she said.
What number of launches? Astra hopes to eventually attain a daily launch cadence, but in the meantime, the business plans to start with weekly launches early next year. It’s a crucial component of the company’s strategy to stand out in a field of tiny launch developers that is becoming more and more competitive — not by being perfect, but by being so low-cost and high-volume that the relative risk of a few catastrophic failures no longer matters. Astra is traveling quite quickly to get there. In November, six years after the firm was created, it made history by being the fastest corporation to enter orbit.
At Astra’s “Spacetech Day” on Thursday, Kemp summed up the strategy as follows: “The method that we followed was not to design and generate PowerPoints and conduct all the analysis and then, perhaps, build a rocket five or ten years later,” he explained. “It was within 18 months of establishing the business in that garage, obtaining a launch permit, launching our first rocket, doing it again a short time later, and again after that.” He said, “This was not the preferred method of solving this issue.
Tiny, affordable, and light, can the market support a rhythm of daily launches? Astra stakes its claim that it can. According to Astra, the launch sector is shaped like a curve. On one end are businesses like SpaceX that support crewed flights, send goods into space, and perhaps even make attempts to inhabit other planets in the future. The tiny, inexpensive, and light Astra is at the other end of the curve.
Kemp referred to this area as the “valley of death” in the midst of the curve. You have two options, he said: scale up the rocket or scale down the manufacturing. We believe there will be winners on both sides of that range, and for all the firms that fall somewhere in the center, it will be very difficult. The increase in planned or ongoing satellite constellations entering orbit contributes to the company’s confidence. In exchange for a faster launch, lower price, and a more customized orbital route, Astra is wagering that providers are ready to take a tiny proportion of their spacecraft not reaching orbit.
This strategy is exemplified by the company’s choices, which include using machine-casted parts rather than 3D-printed ones, making rockets out of inexpensive materials like aluminum, and creating a launch system that only needs a team of six people to deploy and can fit inside a standard shipping container. Astra is still becoming simpler. Instead of the five smaller engines seen in Rocket 3.0, its upcoming rocket, Rocket 4.0, will only have two bigger engines. Additionally, the entire process will be further automated, reducing the mission control crew from more than 10 to only two personnel.