Saturday, March 2, 2024

Small Space News Story Roundup 30

Astra on the Verge of Bankruptcy  

Frankly, I'm a bit surprised it has taken this long.  In August of '22, they announced a change to a new rocket capable of putting bigger payloads in orbit, Rocket 4.0.  Before that announcement they had seven launches of their much smaller payload-rated Rocket 3.0 through 3.3 and only two of seven were successful - 29%. 

In a US Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Tuesday, Astra released a letter sent three days earlier to a special committee of the company’s board of directors from Chris Kemp and Adam London, the chief executive and chief technology officer, slashing by two-thirds their offer to buy outstanding shares of the publicly traded company.

The Tuesday referred to here is last Tuesday, Feb. 27.  In November, Kemp and London proposed to buy Astra shares at $1.50.  On Tuesday they dropped that offer to $0.50.  For comparison, the market price for their shares on Monday the 26th was $1.76/share. Typically (and in November) an attempt to buy shares like this to take over the company is done at a premium over the open market price, not less than 30% of it. 

Astra has disclosed few details about its financial status since the original offer. The company canceled plans for a quarterly earnings call immediately after the publication of the offer, but reported a net loss of $29.7 million in the third quarter. The company has since reported a few minor funding deals, including a Jan. 19 agreement that generated net proceeds of $5.85 million.

Now, I'll forever remember Astra as the company that had the most interesting launch abort ever.

Firefly expanding rapidly in Central Texas

In contrast, Firefly more than doubled its production space, hosting a celebration of opening it Wednesday, Feb. 28, in Briggs, Texas.  According to the Payload newsletter:

In the heart of Texas ranch country, Firefly Aerospace is embracing the pioneering and do-it-all spirit of the frontier. 

The company held a ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday celebrating the expansion of its rocket production facility from 92,000 to 207,000 sq ft to support its “launch, land, orbit” initiatives. Firefly—which is best known for its Alpha rocket—plans to introduce three next-gen vehicles over the next 24 months to cover the three facets of space travel.

Switching sources to Ars Technica's Rocket Report:

Of most interest to a newsletter about rockets is the new rocket. The Medium Launch Vehicle will incorporate a new first stage built by Firefly, with seven Miranda engines. It will be capable of lifting 16 metric tons to low-Earth orbit. And reuse is in the cards—eventually. "Anyone who comes into this market that doesn’t have reusability on their roadmap is a doomed program," said Adam Oakes, Firefly’s VP of launch vehicles. A debut launch is possible as early as 2025.

They have more going on than the MLV.  They're building the Antares 330 under contact to Northrop Grumman - to carry their Cygnus cargo vehicles to the ISS - which will use the MLV as its first stage.  Plus, they're a NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract recipient, contracted to deliver two Blue Ghost lunar landers.  The first should fly later this year.  

NASA, SpaceX Have Begun Testing Starship Docking System

Put this under the "they slipped this by me" category, but it's good to hear.  An important part of the first Artemis missions to the Moon is that SpaceX's Starship rocket will need to dock with NASA's Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit.  

The space agency said this week that NASA and SpaceX recently performed qualification testing for the docking system that will help make that possible. The docking system tests for Starship were conducted at the Johnson Space Center over 10 days using a system that simulates contact dynamics between two spacecraft in orbit.

The testing included more than 200 docking scenarios, with various approach angles and speeds. These real-world results using full-scale hardware will validate computer models of the Moon lander’s docking system.  Based on SpaceX’s flight-proven Dragon 2 docking system used on missions to the ISS, the Starship docking system can be configured to connect the lander to Orion or Gateway.

NASA's article went on to say:

Since being selected as the lander to return humans to the surface of the Moon for the first time since Apollo, SpaceX has completed more than 30 HLS specific milestones by defining and testing hardware needed for power generation, communications, guidance and navigation, propulsion, life support, and space environments protection.

I would have liked to know of that "more than 30 HLS specific milestones" completed, how many is that out of? Is it 30 out of around 50 or more like around 500?

The test stand used for the docking simulations.  SpaceX Photo


  1. In that the focus is on reusability, that Space X is so far ahead of the competition that there is no 2nd place, I wonder about the non-compete clauses Space X has.

    I reckon the headhunting for personnel at Space X is fierce, that others are trying their best to schmooze potential defectors, yet have failed (?) in those attempts to woo Space X employees.

    How tight must be the Space X NDAs and non-competes. Is the company culture and morale ay Space X sufficient to stave off the competition?

  2. May be they all should stop messing around, develop a large service module for Artemus and launch it on a super heavy boosters, best of all worlds plus total reusability, but waste not want not the service module, they can use that for either lunar orbit in some sort of modular moon orbit complex or just land them for moon surface uses. Nothing wasted. Small R&D/Certification.

    1. Yabut the assumption is there's no money in diddling around.
      Lockmart, Boing, Raytheon, and others prove that assumption is false.

    2. But I like the idea of parking modules in lunar orbit. That nay dovetail very well with the concept of scrapyard orbits.