Astra gears up for TROPICS launch campaign

WASHINGTON — Small launch vehicle developer Astra says it is ready to perform a series of launches for NASA once it receives a license for those missions.

In a May 5 earnings call, Astra executives said they were ready to conduct the first of three launches of its Rocket 3.3 vehicle from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station carrying cubesats for the NASA time-resolved observations of precipitation pattern and storm intensity with a constellation of SmallSats (TROPICS). The six satellites will be launched on three Rocket 3.3 vehicles over a relatively short period.

“The rockets are ready,” Kelyn Brannon, Astra’s chief financial officer, said on the call. “What we are waiting for is the license for all three launches, under one license.”

In a separate blog post on May 6, Donald Allen, senior director of program management and operations at Astra, said the company expects to receive launch license from the Federal Aviation Administration “in the coming weeks. “. He did not specify how soon after receiving the license he expected the first of three launches to take place.

Astra has also been unusually critical of outside estimates of its launch plans. “There is a lot of speculation online about our launch dates and even on websites that publish our supposed launch dates; these websites are not a reliable source of information as they do not have access to all of the data necessary to determine a launch date,” Allen wrote (emphasis in original).

While the company plans to perform the launches in rapid succession from Space Launch Complex 46, which hosted an unsuccessful Rocket 3.3 launch in February, the company does not expect to complete all three launches by the end of the quarter. .

“It’s going to be a pretty fast pace,” Astra chief executive Chris Kemp said on the call, but added the company would have to work around weather and range constraints. “The goal is to start this campaign this quarter and do as many launches as possible this quarter, but it’s likely we won’t be able to do them all by the end of the quarter.”

“It is a mission that we would like to accomplish before the storm season,” he added. He didn’t specify “storm season,” but Atlantic hurricane season, as defined by the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center, begins June 1, before the end of the quarter.

Financial results

Astra, in the first quarter, reported revenue of $3.9 million, a net loss of $85.7 million and an adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) loss of $47.5 million. of dollars.

The company forecast an even bigger loss for the second quarter, with an adjusted EBITDA loss of $58 million to $64 million. The company ended the first quarter with $255.2 million in cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities.

Brannon said the company expects a “significant increase” in spending in the quarter due to investment in its upcoming launch system, Rocket 4. Some of these upcoming expenses, such as materials and consulting services , will not continue at the same pace in subsequent quarters. .

However, Kemp said the company has completed its plant expansion, so capital expenditures associated with that will decline “rather dramatically” in the second quarter and beyond. “We are coming to the end of capital deployment in infrastructure and factory,” he said.

The company plans to show off these investments at its factory during a “Spacetech Day” on May 12. Astra plans to use the event to also discuss its plans for the Rocket 4 vehicle. “We’re going to be making some exciting product announcements,” Kemp said.

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