Published: Friday, 12 November 2021 13:41
Astra’s latest rocket, LV0007, is being prepared for launch from Kodiak Island, Alaska, within the next week, the company said Nov. 11. Credit: Astra Space
WASHINGTON — A week after a filing an application with the Federal Communications Commission for a constellation of more than 13,000 satellites, Astra Space executives said that their near-term focus remains on developing their launch capabilities.
Astra released its third quarter financial results Nov. 11, showing an adjusted net loss of $34.5 million for the quarter and $72.4 million for the year to date. In the earnings call about the results, though, much of the attention was on the filing the company made with the FCC Nov. 4 to develop a constellation of 13,620 satellites operating in V-band.
Chris Kemp, chief executive of Astra, said the filing was driven by the near-term opportunity offered by the FCC to request V-band spectrum, with a Nov. 4 deadline for filing applications. Astra was one of several companies submitting applications for tens of thousands of potential satellites, although its application has the largest single number of satellites.
“Spectrum is incredibly hard to get. It’s incredibly valuable,” he said. “In the not-too-distant future, the demand for spectrum access will significantly outstrip supply. This view of spectrum is what motivated us to file the V-band spectrum application to prepare Astra for its next stage of growth.”
Kemp also emphasized the three-phase approach to the proposal, which would start with a single equatorial plane of 40 satellites. “That provides a service that we believe has real value to customers in phase one,” he said. “We can deploy a basic service that allows us to learn and iterate.”
A second phase would place 2,296 satellites into orbit to provide global service, with a third phase involving an additional 11,284 satellites for additional capacity. Those future phases, he said, would depend on customer demand. “We can deploy that constellation, frankly, as we start to see traction with those space services,” he said. “There’s no requirement that we deploy we deploy those 13,000 satellites, but in the license we have to contemplate the full deployment of the entire constellation.”
Kemp didn’t give a schedule for developing the constellation. It may take several years for the FCC to review and approve this latest series of V-band applications. The FCC approved a Boeing proposal for a 147-satellite V-band constellation Nov. 3 nearly five years after the company filed its proposal. One approved, the company would have six years to deploy half the constellation and nine years for the entire fleet.
He insisted the company’s near-term focus is on its small launch vehicles. The latest Rocket 3.3 vehicle, with the serial number LV0007, is currently on Kodiak Island, Alaska, for an upcoming launch for the U.S. Space Force. That launch was expected for earlier this month, but Kemp said he expected it to occur “in the next week or so.” The Federal Aviation Administration has airspace restrictions in place for the launch Nov. 14 and 15 as well as Nov. 19 and 20.
“Our focus right now is on delivering a satellite to orbit so that we can begin to deliver for our customers on the launch services contracts that we have, and be recognizing revenue in our launch services business,” he said. The FCC filing is among what he called the “long-lead items” for developing satellites that can launch on its rockets to provide services.
Astra has yet to place a payload into orbit, having failed on three orbital launch attempts dating back to September 2020. The most recent launch attempt on Aug. 28 failed because of a problem with quick-disconnect system for fuel lines leading into the rocket that caused one of the first stage’s five engines to shut down less than a second after liftoff.
Kemp praised his employees and Astra’s partnership with the FAA to quickly investigate the issue and prepare for this launch. “Developing an orbital launch system is incredibly difficult,” he said. “While we can’t guarantee that the current test flight will be successful, we strongly believe that launching again with the changes that we just made is the fastest and most capital-efficient path to success.”
If the LV0007 launch is successful, Kemp said the company could perform its next launch before the end of the year. That vehicle, LV0008, is nearing completion, while work is underway on the next two vehicles, LV0009 and LV0010.
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