It seems that there is a new rocket launch startup opening for business every day. Due to that increase in competition, private sector launches will need more than that distinction to stay relevant. Astra, an Alameda, California-based startup has a trick up its sleeve.
While other spaceflight companies boast supercar-quality rockets, it plans to launch budget-friendly vehicles that get the job done without breaking the bank. In fact, it hopes to charge just $2.5 million per mission in the early goings. Eventually, Astra plans to fly for just $1 million per launch.
To accomplish its goals of cheap spaceflight, Astra is turning to some basic business principles. It emphasizes that a high launch volume will help it keep prices low for all of its customers. In doing so, the rocket startup should be able to differentiate itself from the countless competitors out there.
It’s worth noting that Astra’s rockets are much smaller than most of the other launch vehicles that companies can choose from. They are designed to launch up to 450 pounds of cargo. Compared to the payloads of massive rockets like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, that seems like a minuscule amount. However, Astra doesn’t intend on competing with the big players in the launch industry. Rather, its strategy is to pull business away from other small-scale launch startups like Rocket Lab.
Astra’s goal of a $2.5 million price tag per mission is about half the price of a Rocket Lab launch. Yet, the ambitious startup doesn’t want to stop there. It hopes to establish a daily launch cadence. Such a frenetic pace would allow it to drop prices further, even as low as $1 million per mission. While an Astra launch won’t send up large payloads, that sort of price will make routine launches a possibility for many companies.
Of course, ramping up towards daily launches isn’t something that happens overnight. Astra is currently focused on increasing the production of its main rocket. The startup plans to do so from its 250,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that was once a U.S. naval air station.
While its launch vehicle doesn’t have a fancy name, it does have some distinguishing features. For one, it is primarily made with aluminum. This differs from the rockets of its competitors like Rocket Lab’s Electron, which is made of carbon fiber. Using aluminum helps keep costs low and is suitable for the size and scale of Astra launches.
As the startup scales up its operations, there is a key date circled on the calendar. On February 21, Astra has an orbital test launch slated to occur from Kodiak, Alaska. It seeks to make up for a pair of suborbital launch failures from the same site back in 2018.
While Astra still has much to prove, it also has a very intriguing strategy for the future. With a growing global interest in satellite-based broadband and no shortage of companies willing to commission a launch, it may very well be poised for a profitable decade.