Rocket launch startup Astra is the latest space company to go public


A California startup with dreams of shooting rockets and satellites into space just got one step closer to solidifying its future in the space transportation industry. 

Rocket maker Astra said in a blog post on Tuesday (Feb. 2) that, in the second-quarter, it will go public by merging with publicly traded Holicity. 

Formed in 2016, Astra is working on sending its 40-foot-tall (12 meters) rocket into space, allowing its commercial customers to send their satellites into orbit. Upon completion, the deal between Astra and Holicity, a so-called special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), could value Astra at $2.1 billion. By comparison, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which is not public, is currently valued at $46 billion. 

Related: Astra will launch its 1st satellite mission in early 2021

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CEO Chris Kemp, who served as NASA’s chief technology officer for information technology from 2010 to 2011, wrote in a Twitter post that he “couldn’t be more excited for this next chapter.” 

Astra is just the latest space company to go public; the suborbital space tourism company Virgin Galactic began trading in October 2019 after it merged with another SPAC. Since then, shares have risen nearly fivefold, as investors bet on the company to eventually launch space tourists and science missions to space.

By going public, Astra will be able to generate the money needed to build smaller rockets in higher numbers and launch them from a variety of different locations in a faster time frame, Kemp told CNBC’s Squawk Box earlier this month

Unlike other rocket makers, Astra’s focus is on creating inexpensive (launch costs could be as low as $3 million), automated rockets that can be controlled remotely and shipped anywhere depending on what a customer needs, akin to “the FedEx of space,” according to a Bloomberg profile. While nascent, the technology was convincing enough to become one of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) three finalists in a two-year contest known as the Launch Challenge. 

Astra’s Rocket 3.2 lifts off from the Alaskan coast on Dec. 15, 2020 in this montage of mission photos. (Image credit: Astra/John Kraus)

In contrast, SpaceX has focused on launching its reusable, 23-story Falcon 9 rockets from four sites, most notably NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX’s cost per launch is $62 million, according to its website, but in 2020, it unveiled a tool to allow small satellite customers to use its ride-share service for as little as $1 million for 440-lb. (200 kilograms) payloads.

In December, Astra successfully reached space with its Rocket 3.2 launch vehicle. Just a few operators were in Kodiak, Alaska, on the ground for setting up the launch. The upper stage reached 16,106 mph (25,920 kph), which was just shy of orbital velocity, or the 17,180 mph (27,649 kph) needed to swing into orbit around Earth. Even so, the company is confident it will be able to do so after making some software tweaks, and it is looking to launch standard satellites for customers later this year.

However, Astra may face stiff competition from top players in the field — notably, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, a joint-venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. 

Kemp said the company has more than 50 launches lined up for customers in the coming months. However, he hinted that Astra will be much more than a small rocket-maker in the not-too-distant future, as the company seeks to build “a platform of space services that will catalyze a wave of innovation that will benefit our planet in ways unimaginable today.”

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Get ready to explore the wonders of our incredible universe! The “Space.com Collection” is packed with amazing astronomy, incredible discoveries and the latest missions from space agencies around the world. From distant galaxies to the planets, moons and asteroids of our own solar system, you’ll discover a wealth of facts about the cosmos, and learn about the new technologies, telescopes and rockets in development that will reveal even more of its secrets. View Deal

Space.com Collection: $26.99 at Magazines Direct

Get ready to explore the wonders of our incredible universe! The “Space.com Collection” is packed with amazing astronomy, incredible discoveries and the latest missions from space agencies around the world. From distant galaxies to the planets, moons and asteroids of our own solar system, you’ll discover a wealth of facts about the cosmos, and learn about the new technologies, telescopes and rockets in development that will reveal even more of its secrets. View Deal

Source: space.com

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