A California-based stealth rocket startup has revealed it plans to be the FedEx of space in a recent profile. The profile published on Bloomberg.com is the first time anyone from Astra has spoken publicly.
In the profile published earlier today (Feb. 3), Bloomberg columnist Ashlee Vance sat down with Astra founders, Chris Kemp and Adam London. The pair revealed that they envision a future in which the company will have the capacity to launch hundreds of flights a year. Each flight will cost approximately $1 million and be capable of carrying up to 200 kilograms of cargo.
In order to achieve this ambitious goal, the company hopes to mass-produce “cheap rockets” that 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.
With the possibility of more than 300 flights per year, a question that has continued to be asked of ambitious new small launch outfits creeps up once again. That question being, “Is the market large enough to warrant several small launch providers flying several hundred missions a year?”
The answer to that burning question? Maybe.
Several communications and Earth observation providers are planning mega satellite constellations. These constellations will be made of hundreds if not thousands of satellites that will need to be launched to low Earth orbit in as cost-efficient a manner as possible.
Mega constellations that could utilise Astra’s staggeringly large launch capacity are the OneWeb and Project Kuiper constellations. Together these constellations will be made up of between 4,000 and 5,000 satellites. As a result, even with three or four providers offering several hundreds of flights a year, it would still take several years to complete these constellations.
However, placing a single satellite per launch may be an undesirable method to build a mega constellation. An alternative method would be to use a single large launch vehicle to place several satellites at once.
SpaceX is currently utilising its Falcon 9 vehicle to place 60 satellites at a time for the company’s own mega constellation, Starlink. The satellites are being launched aboard flight-proven Falcon 9 rockets that are estimated to cost around $52 million per flight. The result is a method of building a mega constellation that is both quicker and more cost-effective than launching a single satellite at a time.
Ultimately, the fate of ambitious young rocket startups like Astra will be decided by the market.