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Astra going public soon, "hyperscale", daily launches, mega-constellations

e-FTW

New electron smell
Aug 23, 2015
3,263
3,086
San Francisco, CA
An interesting read: https://astra.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Astra-Investor-Presentation.pdf

upload_2021-2-24_18-7-57.png
 

Cosmacelf

Well-Known Member
Mar 6, 2013
8,396
19,996
San Diego
When I read their SPAC presentation (linked above), I was scoffing. But then I started reading various Ars articles:

At Astra, failure is an option

Astra finally launches its first orbital rocket, and it flew for 30 seconds

Astra pitches larger rocket, suborbital cargo-delivery plan to Air Force

Astra set up a rocket launch with five people and came within seconds of orbit

They haven't done their third launch yet, but they might just get there.

I still think this is a stretch, but the public seems intent on throwing money onto space companies these days, so what do I know?
 

e-FTW

New electron smell
Aug 23, 2015
3,263
3,086
San Francisco, CA
When I read their SPAC presentation (linked above), I was scoffing. But then I started reading various Ars articles:

At Astra, failure is an option

Astra finally launches its first orbital rocket, and it flew for 30 seconds

Astra pitches larger rocket, suborbital cargo-delivery plan to Air Force

Astra set up a rocket launch with five people and came within seconds of orbit

They haven't done their third launch yet, but they might just get there.

I still think this is a stretch, but the public seems intent on throwing money onto space companies these days, so what do I know?
Yup. Am still not sold. Plenty of competition in the small launcher market. Building a mega-constellation (one of their planned offerings) with small daily launches does not seem that efficient. The big-hoopla about hiring a senior Apple Engineer notwithstanding.

But hey, HOL is relatively cheap right now so I will soon own a microscopic piece of a space start-up!
 

Cosmacelf

Well-Known Member
Mar 6, 2013
8,396
19,996
San Diego
Yup. Am still not sold. Plenty of competition in the small launcher market. Building a mega-constellation (one of their planned offerings) with small daily launches does not seem that efficient. The big-hoopla about hiring a senior Apple Engineer notwithstanding.

But hey, HOL is relatively cheap right now so I will soon own a microscopic piece of a space start-up!

So you're going to buy HOL?
 

kbecks13

Active Member
Dec 27, 2017
1,914
2,263
SoCal
So i think i saw they are currently charging $2.5M for a launch of 150kg, meanwhile SpaceX charges $1M for a 200kg rideshare which of course has limited launch dates and orbits to choose from.

Will small sats really be willing/need to pay extra for that flexibility?
 
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e-FTW

New electron smell
Aug 23, 2015
3,263
3,086
San Francisco, CA
So i think i saw they are currently charging $2.5M for a launch of 150kg, meanwhile SpaceX charges $1M for a 200kg rideshare which of course has limited launch dates and orbits to choose from.

Will small sats really be willing/need to pay extra for that flexibility?
That is what I am wondering about. That decision hinges on a number of factors for a satellite operator, like cost of launch V overall cost of the mission/service/operation (if the sat costs 10x the launch cost you may not care), proven reliability of launch platform (minimize risk or loss of sat, although if you want to launch 1000s you may not care as much), how close you need to stick to an operational schedule, etc.
I think this is why they are seemingly focused on quick-to-operational service constellations. Seems like a good fit. Question is, is there a market there.

But one Starship launch could take care of an entire cube-sat constellation...
 
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bxr140

Active Member
Nov 18, 2014
2,683
3,585
Bay Area
Will small sats really be willing/need to pay extra for that flexibility?

It’s an interesting space for sure. I think the sweet spot for someone like astra is a small constellation. Something that’s beyond the just-get-a-proto-on-orbit phase but not so big that the racked up launch cost becomes untenable. Their strength will definitely be their launch rate, assuming they can get down to the ~days frequency.
 
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e-FTW

New electron smell
Aug 23, 2015
3,263
3,086
San Francisco, CA
If you look back at the Earth 50 years from now, or 100 years from now, there is a layer right above our atmosphere helping improve life on Earth. It’s an intelligent dust of connectivity that provides a level of capability here on the planet to better understand our resources, like really incredible, high-fidelity weather forecasting. Where are we hurting our coral reefs? What’s happening with methane?
I cannot believe 100 years from now, looking back at Earth, there isn’t this beautiful protective sphere. And you can call that Astra. So, we’re building that. How do you build that? Is that a monopoly? No, it’s a platform, and that platform will be driven by standards and competition and global collaboration. Astra is building that platform, but it’s going to take decades. This transaction gives us the resources we need to begin that journey.
Lots of, words there.
 
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bxr140

Active Member
Nov 18, 2014
2,683
3,585
Bay Area
They are aiming for the gaps that bigger vehicles don't fill in constellations. That seems rather dangerous: easily taken out by a number of competitors.

I think there's a lot of space here. There's really no major proprietary, secret sauce, or otherwise inaccessible technology that gives any launcher--SpaceX included--an unrecoverable advantage over competitors. As SpaceX has shown, its mostly about how a company is run.

Yeah, small launchers is a crowded space, and most of them are going to drop out. And yeah, the general concept of many small launches vs fewer big launches has yet to be proven viable. But generally, the way Chris and his team run Astra is pretty logical: Focus on technology and cost, not revenue. What remains to be seen is whether or not their logic can ultimately be realized as revenue.


And to be clear, the concept of being the "gap filler" or secondary launch provider for a constellation is actually pretty attractive. Two examples:

1. Currently, the concept for constellation redundancy and reliability is either to put 1) too many satellites in the constellation (= starlink) or 2) on orbit spares (either in plane or in parking orbits). The former is a problem because it requires more capital (for both sats and launch), the latter is a problem because there's still time require for a spare satellite to position into its proper orbital slot, plus the clock on satellite lifetime more or less starts ticking once its launched (primarily because of the radiation environment).

Now imagine a scenario where a quick-turn launcher could--within days if not hours--direct inject a replacement satellite into the proper orbital slot. Astra (or whoever) has a bunch of sats for various constellations in a warehouse, or even already integrated onto rockets. Then they get the call, roll out the rocket, and launch The Thing. That concept significantly reduces the number of sats needed on orbit to provide full service and minimizes service level impact of the satellite outage.

2. The physics of orbital precession is unavoidable. For a LEO constellation, depending on insertion and final altitudes, the hypothetical "single launch" for all the sats (think: Starship) would result in a year or more before the constellation actually provides as-designed coverage. Given that, again, the lifetime clock starts turning at launch, that's a massive hit to a constellation's revenue and amortization.

With more, smaller launchers...or even more intelligently, a mix of big and small launchers, a constellation can optimize/balance their launch costs against their in-service date. Because there's an inevitable time function to launching a bunch of sats (you can't do it all at once) you can do a few big launches up front and allow them to start precessing, then fill out the rest of the constellation with smaller, more targeted launches such that by the time the latter launches are done, the first big launches have completed precessing.

There's also a corollary use case of not having to launch spares into a plane (= enabling more service sats per launch thus decreasing average cost-to-orbit) and still being able to efficiently recover from a DOA sat.
 
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bxr140

Active Member
Nov 18, 2014
2,683
3,585
Bay Area
All right, you make a good case for Astra.
Can you make one against them? :cool:

Its really just going to come down to whether they can maintain alignment between the timeline of their [aspirational] roadmap and the expectations of their investors.

Slightly less philosophical (if not a bit of a Captain Obvious statement) if their $/kg is higher than larger launchers then its going to be hard to compete; Astra will have to cover their price premium with some other factor. While this will certainly be a bit of a parametric assessment on Astra's part and ultimately will depend on the specific needs of a prospective customer, some of those factors could be a) efficiency of initial deployment (= means more revenue, sooner), b) cost deferral through efficient failure recovery (= no planned on orbit spares, rightsized launchers for on-demand spares), or c) more favorable terms, notably less/no penalties for delays.

To use a bit of an analogy, if Starship is the massive trans-pacific cargo ship that can haul a bunch of *sugar* to a few places, Astra wants to carry some smaller amount of *sugar* on private jets directly to a bunch of different locations. Of course, ideally at cargo ship prices.
 
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