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Astra, flying down more than up

Achievements in the space industry are inconsistent, and Astra company proves this statement. Just three months ago, Astra became the first company to launch a rocket into orbit in less than five years. However, at the beginning of February, the value of its stocks fell 2.5 times from its peak in November. The reason for the drop was another unsuccessful rocket launch, which, however, does not stand out from the general dynamics of the company’s development.

Astra was created in 2016 by Chris Kemp and Adam London, the company’s CEO and CTO, respectively. Before re-incorporation, the company was small aerospace research and design firm working on major projects with NASA and DARPA under the “Ventions” name. In 2016, it changed its expertise to create small launch vehicles, but experience and connections with agencies helped Astra attract investors and get into big projects. By 2020, Astra has received more than 100 million investments from Eric Schmidt Innovation Endeavors, Airbus Ventures, Canann Partners, and Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff.

Astra worked in “stealth mode” in the early years, developing technologies, building test sites, and increasing production capabilities. It was not until 2020 that the founders revealed their business models and plans when they became finalists for the DARPA Launch Challenge. Astra had to launch two small satellite payloads for DARPA. However, Kemp and London hurried: Astra failed to launch the spacecraft due to erroneous sensor data, and DARPA closed the challenge without winners.

That fiasco was not the first for Astra, as the tests of Rocket 1.0 and Rocket 2.0 in July and August 2020 were declared failures by the Federal Aviation Administration. Nevertheless, Astra showed naive optimism: these launches were marked as successful on its website because they gave engineers helpful information. Moreover, the failures did not end there. In March 2020, Astra tested Rocket 3.0, but it burned down while still on the launchpad. Six months later, Rocket 3.1. took off but fell and exploded a few minutes later. It seems that mostly optimism allowed Astra to participate in major projects and move to a new stage of development.

In early 2021, the company was selected by the US Air Force’s AFWERX program to develop the Rocket 5.0 and deliver a payload to sun-synchronous orbit. This responsibility pushed Astra to work even faster, so, during 2020-2021, they completed two more unsuccessful launches. However, in November 2021, the Rocket 3.3 vehicle finally reached orbit with a test payload, making Astra the first company to develop and launch spacecraft in less than five years.

This significant event helped increase the price of Astra’s stocks to $11.27. However, the company continues to fail tests despite promises to deliver commercial cargo daily at the lowest price in the industry. Moreover, the latest failure to launch Vehicle 0008 for NASA sent the stock down to $4.60. So, if the company does not show any promising results soon, the founders will have to convince investors of their sustainability or prepare to cut their expenses.

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