Astra Chief Executive Officer Chris Kemp told investors on Thursday that the company will no longer launch payloads with its current light vehicle, Rocket 3, and will instead redo all launches on a significantly larger rocket, which is still in the works under development.
It’s a big change for the company, which operates on the hunch that customers are willing to risk a certain number of missile failures in favor of increased launch rates and lower costs. Kemp summed up the outlook to TechCrunch in May: “I think a lot of people’s expectations are that every launch has to be perfect. I think what Astra needs to do is we need to have so many launches that no one is thinking about anymore.”
But it seems that people – including Astra herself – are really thinking about it. That’s especially true after the failure of Astra’s TROPICS 1 mission in June, the first of three launches the company has conducted on behalf of NASA. This launch, much anticipated by the company and Kemp in particular, ended in loss of payload after the upper stage suffered an anomaly that caused it to shut down before reaching target speed.
Back in May of this year, Kemp told investors that “If two of the three [TROPICS launches] are successful, it is not a mission failure. It’s just a lower refresh rate for the constellation.
But the move from Rocket 3 to the larger vehicle, Rocket 4, marks a significant shift in strategy that suggests a bigger change in tune. The difference in payload is seismic in itself: Astra said it increases the Rocket 4’s payload capacity from 300 kilograms—already a huge change from the Rocket 3’s 50 kilograms—to 600 kilograms.
Kemp explained the transition to investors as one based on customer preferences and market developments. “We started talking to our customers and it was pretty clear that after two of the four flights we had done were not successful, the opportunity to fly a vehicle that had received all this attention and energy from our team over the past year was also favorable to them,” he said. He added that the company has seen increasing demand from large constellation operators for higher payload capacity and greater reliability.
That specifically means there will be no more flights in 2022. Astra intends to conduct several test flights of the Rocket 4 and Launch System 2.0, of which Rocket 4 is a part, but Kemp did not provide a specific timeline for when those test flights might be. to take place, saying only that the start of commercial operations by next year will depend on the success of these flights.
In addition to these changes, Astra also reported growth in its space products division, specifically the Astra spacecraft engine. The company has secured 103 orders taken for this engine built Astra’s acquisition of Apollo Fusion last year, and the company will open a 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to support the production of this product. The company expects the sale of spacecraft engines to make up the majority of its revenue.
The change in strategy comes amid the announcement that Astra has secured a $100 million equity facility with B. Riley Principal Capital II over the next two years. That’s in addition to the $200 million in cash the company currently has.