The space sector is filled with massive government contractors as well as private companies such as SpaceX that launch rockets into space. But, for the first time ever, a California based startup called Astra has unveiled its plans to become the “FedEx of space”.
In an interview, the founders of Astra, Chris Kemp and Adam London said that their vision for the company is for it to be able to launch hundreds of flights per year at the cost of around $1 million dollars for each flight. The flights will carry approximately 200 kilograms of cargo.
How Will They Achieve This?
In order to fulfill its ambitious goals, Astra will be mass-producing cheap rockets.
“This would facilitate a launch cadence as frequent as one flight per day. We have taken a much broader look at how we scale the business,” said Kemp in the interview.
They are launching a flight from Kodiak, Alaska on February 21 and if successful, then Astra would have put a rocket in space at a record-setting speed.
The executives, however, are more focused on the logistics of developing more of these rockets than on this launch.
But that doesn’t mean that the Kodiak launch is not important. Fast-paced rocket launches have become a matter of national priority for the US government and Astra has become a favourite of the US Department of Defence.
Pentagon’s Research and Development wing and The Defence Advanced Research Project Agency had released a space contest called “Launch Challenge” of which Astra is a finalist.
The term of the challenge is that “Whichever startup could send two rockets from different locations with different payloads within a few weeks of each other would win $12 million,” reported Bloomberg.
The other two finalists have withdrawn from the competition leaving only Astra in the race.
Kemp continued, “It would be unprecedented if this was a successful orbital flight. We want to emphasise that this is one of many launches we will do in an ongoing campaign.”
Currently, Astra’s canvas of 150 people is coloured with not only aerospace veterans but also with experienced engineers from dusty, bootstrapped rocket firms and groups of people coming from an entirely different field altogether.
“I didn’t know the first thing about rockets, whenever I got into it. But with these startups, you’re involved pretty quickly in just about every single aspect,” he added.
The Space Market And The Future
Astra’s aim to launch over 300 flights per year is clearly an ambitious one. This leads us to question whether the space market is large enough to allow startups or small scale space firms to launch hundreds of rockets every year.
There are other companies that need large scale rocket launches. Many communications and earth observation providers are aiming to create “mega satellite constellations”. These constellations will be made of hundreds of satellites launched into space in a cost-effective manner.
“Mega constellations that could utilise Astra’s staggeringly large launch capacity are the OneWeb and Project Kuiper constellations”, reported Bloomberg.
SpaceX is using Falcon 9 to launch over 60 satellites into space for its own mega-constellation called Starlink.
Even Astra could apply the same strategy and use a large vehicle to launch several satellites at once.
Eventually, the destiny of young and ambitious space startups is decided by the often unpredictable market.
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