MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – While Astra Space is taking the delisting warning the company received from NASDAQ seriously, the company has “lots of different strategies” to address it, Astra CEO Chris Kemp said at the Satellite Innovation conference here.
“Our plan is to work really hard to ship lots of great products for our customers and continue to run the business well and have a great earnings call,” Kemp said in a fireside chat with Tess Hatch, partner at Bessemer Venture Partners.
Alameda, Calif.-based Astra received a NASDAQ warning Oct. 6 because its share price had been below $1 for 30 consecutive days. After that type of notice, a company has 180 days to bring its share price back up and trade above $1 for at least 10 consecutive days.
“Based on what’s happening in the markets, there might be other space tech companies that get similar notices,” Kemp said.
One Astra strategy for raising its share price is shipping space propulsion to customers. Astra acquired Apollo Fusion and its electric propulsion technology in 2021.
At the time, Apollo Fusion thrusters did not have space heritage. Now the technology has proven itself in space. Astra has orders for more than 100 propulsion systems and the company will continue to increase propulsion shipments next year, “which will create another revenue stream for us in our space technology business,” Kemp said.
While people might think of Astra as a launch company, it is much more, Kemp said.
Still, launch remains a key component. Astra has launched four rockets, two successfully delivering 23 satellites to orbit.
Based on changing market conditions and changes in the company, Astra is redesigning its rocket.
We decided not “to burden” our employees with the rocket “we built as a much smaller company before we went public,’” Kemp said. “Let’s take everything we’ve learned from these flights and let’s do a fourth version of our product and focus on reliability. Let’s take this quarter million square foot facility we just built in Alameda and let’s use it with all the new equipment and all the new people and processes.”
Astra recently hired Doug Kunzman, the former Blue Origin senior director for New Shepard operations and Maintenance, to be its vice president of test and launch engineering and operations and to lead its rocket program.
Astra remains focused on producing inexpensive rockets designed to be launched at a high cadence. As a result, the rocket is not manufactured with carbon fiber or metal 3D printing.
“We basically engineered the whole rocket to be as inexpensive as possible,” Kemp said. “If you look at our track record of launches, the ones that didn’t work had nothing to do with this cost optimization. They had to do with further investments we needed to make it process integrity.”
In a report soon to be published, Astra determined that its upper stage engine consumed fuel at a rate faster than predicted and faster than engineers observed in testing on ground-based stands.
“We basically ran out of fuel a little early. That caused the engine to shutdown, which caused the requisite velocity to not be reached to deliver the payloads at the target orbits. Everything else worked fine,” Kemp said.
Why not simply fix the problem and launch the same rocket, Hatch asked.
“No one really cared about a 50-kilogram rocket anymore,” Kemp said. “When you looked at the economics, we basically need a 500-kilogram-class launch vehicle. Customers really want this larger vehicle.”
With additional modifications of batteries and turbo pumps, the new rocket “will deliver over 10 times the payload capacity,” while building on heritage software, structures, tanks, welding “and all the things that we’ve been doing for the past five years,” Kemp said.