Space transport startup Astra has signed a multi-launch deal with Planet. This is the company’s first commercial launch contract with a private imaging firm. Astra did not specify about the number of missions the deal includes or the value of the contract, but the companies have “plans to begin launching in the near future.”
“Our business requires us to be able to reach space frequently, affordably, and reliably,” said Will Marshall, co-founder, and CEO of Planet. “Astra is positioned to help us rapidly put up satellites to deliver ever more relevant data to our customers.”
Astra is preparing to go public by the end of June through a merger with SPAC Holicity, which will infuse as much as $500 million capital into the company. In the meantime, Astra is expanding its headquarters on the San Francisco Bay while the company prepares for its next launch this summer.
A SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, raises capital in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) and uses the proceeds to buy a private firm and take it public.
Astra to increase capacity for the launch
Astra, which uses the infrastructure left over from the US Navy’s former Air Station Alameda, announced that it is increasing its capabilities to launch payloads up to 500 kg to a 500 km mid-inclination orbit service targeted to mega-constellations. This is an increase from the previous capability of 50 kg to Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). Astra did not specify how it is able to increase its capability.
The smallsat launcher recently reached orbit for the first time in December 2020, with its 3.1 rocket. Since then, Astra has signed a $7.95 million contract with NASA to launch a constellation of six CubeSats for storm research over three launches.
Meanwhile, Astra has also put all its equipment on wheels, with the company’s leadership emphasizing the flexibility it wants to maintain as it builds its production capabilities. Its near-term goal is to reach orbit, the next hurdle after its most recent launch broke the barrier to space in December. The next Astra launch is planned for this summer, which will also be the first to generate revenue for the company.
Astra’s rocket stands 40 feet tall and is capable of carrying up to 100 kilograms to low Earth orbit – putting it in the category of small rockets, a category currently led by Rocket Lab.
But Astra’s emphasis is on keeping the price of the rocket as low as possible, with pricing as low as $2.5 million per launch. Rocket Lab prices its Electron rocket at about $7 million per launch, but can lift up to 300 kilograms to low Earth orbit.