Home https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ Business https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ Inside the Astra rocket factory while the company prepares to go public

Inside the Astra rocket factory while the company prepares to go public



Astra Vice President of Manufacturing Bryson Gentile, left, and CEO Chris Kemp remove a protective cover from a rocket half-dressed.

Michael Schitz CNBC

ALAMEDA, Calif. – Rocket builder Astra wants to simplify the launch business, with the public company soon seeking to reduce production costs while drastically increasing the number of launches to a daily rate.

Astra is preparing to go public by the end of June through a merger with SPAC Holicity, in a deal that will inject capital into the company up to $ 500 million. Astra, meanwhile, is expanding its San Francisco Bay Area headquarters as the company prepares for its next launch this summer.

SPAC, or a special purpose vehicle, raises capital from an initial public offering and uses the proceeds to buy a private company and make it public.

CNBC toured the Astra̵

7;s growing facility earlier this month, a visit joined by Chairman and CEO Chris Kemp and Vice President of Manufacturing Bryson Gentile.

Also present were Benjamin Lyon, Executive Vice President of Engineering, along with Senior Vice President of Factory Engineering Pablo Gonzalez and Vice President of Communications Kathy Dam.

The company’s management is distinguished by different environments from the space and technology industry: Kemp from NASA and the cloud software provider OpenStack and Gentile from SpaceX. Meanwhile, Lyon came from Apple, Gonzalez from Tesla, and Dahm from electric vehicle maker NIO.

View the location of the Astra headquarters in San Francisco Bay in Alameda, California.

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The Astra facility uses infrastructure left over from the former US Navy’s Alameda airline. The company first started with about 30,000 square meters. It now expands to about 250,000 square meters – including to the end of the bay, where a newly built city ferry terminal connects Alameda to downtown San Francisco, a 10-minute drive away.

The main area of ​​the company’s headquarters, about 25% of its footprint, has open space for much of its missile development and assembly.

Astra has also put all its equipment on wheels, with the company’s management emphasizing the flexibility it wants to maintain as it builds its production capabilities.

The production floor of Astra’s headquarters in Alameda, California.

Michael Schitz CNBC

Its short-term goal is to reach orbit, the next obstacle since its last launch breaking the barrier to space in December. The next launch of the Astra is planned for this summer, which will be the first to generate revenue for the company.

The Astra rocket is 40 feet high and is capable of carrying up to 100 kilograms to low Earth orbit – placing it in the category of small rockets, a category currently run by the Rocket Lab.

But Astra’s focus is on keeping the price of the rocket as low as possible, with prices up to $ 2.5 million per launch compared to Rocket Lab’s Electron at about $ 7 million per launch.

A closer look at the half-rocket nose Astra, also known as the fairing.

Michael Schitz CNBC

The company has focused on cost-cutting methods that it has implemented in its approach, with Astra believing that it is possible to reach a production rate of one rocket per day within a few years. The company’s staff compares its rocket to the construction of a small Cessna aircraft.

One example of what the Astra demonstrates during the tour is how it builds fairings – the nose cone of the rocket that protects the satellites during launch.

The company said the first fairing it used was made of composite carbon fiber, which is typical of the space industry, given how light and hard the material is. But the carbon fiber fairing costs $ 250,000, which necessitates a different solution, as the company wants to ultimately reduce the total cost of its rocket below $ 500,000.

Astra chose to build its second fairing, which reached about $ 130,000. Still, the company had to go further.

Vice President Gentile explained how the company now uses aluminum tubes to give the fairing strength, combining it with a dozen petals that are thin, curved pieces of metal. This reduced the cost of the fairings to $ 33,000.

Astra plans to get under $ 10,000 for the fairing by stamping it instead of riveting it.

Members of Astra’s management team gathered around a rocket between production processes, right: Vice President of Manufacturing Bryson Gentile, SVP Factory Engineering Dr. Pablo Gonzalez, Vice President of Communications Kathy Dam, Founder and CEO Chris Kemp, EVP of Engineer Lyon.

Michael Schitz CNBC

Another long-term obstacle for the company will be working with regulators to quickly obtain start-up licenses if it manages to reach daily speeds. Astra’s management said it was working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration on how to streamline the licensing process and noted that it wanted to have a dozen or more spaceports around the world.

Astra Launch Mission Management Center.

Michael Schitz CNBC

The Astra has also streamlined the operational aspect of its launches, reducing the number of people in control of its mission to less than 10 and only needs six people to set up the missile at the physical launch site.

Its goal is to reduce the number of people in control of the mission to just two, an effective pilot and co-pilot, by automating most of its processes.

Astra’s outdoor work yard, where pieces of its missile support equipment are assembled and prepared for launch.

Michael Schitz CNBC

Its missile system, including the strong part that lifts the vehicle vertically, all packages in several transport containers.

First, the Astra removes the hard back from the container and enters the factory. The overhead crane then launches the rocket directly onto the hard part. Finally, the whole system is rolled into a container and then shipped.

The Astra has three strengths to assemble, with more to come.

The thick doors that lead to one of Astra’s rocket engine tests, which was previously a US Navy engine testing facility.

Michael Schitz CNBC

The former naval facility also has two test areas for engines, with thick reinforced concrete walls.

The night before the tour, CNBC Astra conducted tests on the upper stage of the rocket. This made the engine compartment a cool place to visit, thanks to sub-zero temperatures of the liquid oxygen tank.

Inside an Astra test bunker, where senior manager Andrew Pratt shows a pair of fuel tanks connected to the upper stage of a test rocket the night before.

Michael Schitz CNBC

During a hot-fire test, when one of Astra’s Delphin’s rocket engines caught fire, the inside of the cameras reached 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Astra officials said the company could conduct 10 to 15 tests on the first stage of the rocket per day or more than 30 tests on the upper stage per day.

Looking back at the drain of the Astra test bay.

Michael Schitz CNBC

Astra will continue to expand its current footprint in Alameda, including a lease for a 500-foot pier and plans for an ocean launch platform that can be loaded with a rocket in the bay.

The view behind the Astra headquarters in Alameda, California, overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Michael Schitz CNBC

Astra CEO Chris Kemp shows part of the area the company plans to use to expand its headquarters.

Michael Schitz CNBC


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