Astra is making plans to return to Kodiak in the next few months to launch a customer’s satellite, following the company’s successful launch of a rocket into space on Dec. 15.
Astra has not yet gone public with the name of the customer, but said it may do so before the launch.
“We have not announced them yet, but we will when both we are ready and the customer is ready,” said Martin Attiq, Astra’s executive vice president of business operations.
Although the four-year startup company’s ultimate goal is to reach orbit, Astra said reaching space was a success.
During the launch earlier this month, Astra’s Rocket 3.2, the second iteration of the 3-series rocket, sped 16,000 miles per hour, with the upper stage engine shutting down after depleting all of its fuel.
The rocket reached 380 kilometers above Earth at 7.2 km/sec, just short of the 7.68 km/sec needed to reach orbit to launch a satellite, or payload.
“We demonstrated that we have an orbital-capable vehicle. We got to space — orbital space,” Attiq said.
To fix the issue of velocity, Astra will have to change the ratio between oxygen and fuel in the rocket, which cannot be tested on the ground.
“What we’ve determined, all we need to do is change the ratio of those two things and next have an insertion of a payload,” Attiq said.
The company launched its second rocket iteration just three months after the launch of Rocket 3.1.
Astra’s quick turnaround is unprecedented, Attiq said.
“We are building slightly less expensive rockets. As long as we have all of our safety parameters in place so we can safely fly, we are able to fly sooner,” Attiq said.
One reason for Astra’s fast turnaround is that they are willing to fail “sooner than people are,” Attiq said, adding that it is less of a catastrophe if Astra’s rocket fails because it costs “in the single digit millions” to build compared with the $62 million Falcon 9 built by SpaceX aerospace company.
Attiq also said every part of the rocket-making process — designing, building and testing — occurs at the company’s 20-acre campus in Alameda, California, allowing the team to move from step to step much faster than other companies.
He noted that other companies like SpaceX have their facilities spread out through the United States and even abroad.
“That disjointedness creates a lot of friction in being able to move quickly,” Attiq said.
That speed and the lower cost to launch the rocket have already attracted more than 10 customers, one of which is NASA, who has awarded Astra a $3.9 million contract to launch small satellites into space.
Although Astra has not made the names of its customers public, it plans to do so as they launch their satellites.
Currently, Astra is solely launching from Kodiak, but Attiq said the company plans to launch from other locations as well.
These satellites have a range of uses, from satellite imagery and broadband to communication.
“These satellites are important for us to observe and connect the Earth,” Attiq said. “Our customers are building these capabilities and we are launching them.”
Astra is moving forward with achieving its goal of launching many lower-cost rockets, and building a “point-to-point delivery” system that can launch from anywhere on Earth to anywhere in space.
Attiq said point-to-point delivery will allow rural areas without internet access to have broadband internet, a capability not possible with systems on Earth.
“Point-to-point delivery ... is very important,” Attiq said, adding that as the orbital complexity grows, “there will be a lot more services that come from space and it will allow the world to observe and connect in a way that it hasn’t before.”