The rocket start-up Astra plans to go public, the company announced Tuesday, raising $500 million to bolster its position in the burgeoning market for space transportation.
In a deal valued at $2.1 billion, Astra would become the first publicly traded company dedicated to delivering satellites into Earth’s orbit. The Alameda, Calif.-based rocket-maker intends to go public through a merger with a blank-check company, or what’s known as a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that acts as a financial vehicle to bypasses the traditional IPO process.
“We’re seeing hundreds of companies that want to get from anywhere on Earth to anywhere in space on their schedule – not wait years to get a lot of things to one place,” said founder and chef executive Chris Kemp in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Tuesday. “So we’re really focused on building a much smaller rocket, produced in much higher volume, launched from a much larger number of locations.”
Kemp, the former NASA chief technology officer for IT, said the deal was the best way to raise significant funding and gain access to public markets.
Astra offers launch services of payloads ranging from 50 to 150 kilograms or as much as 330 pounds, and expects to begin deliveries into space by the end of the year. The company claims it has booked over $150 million in revenue from more than 50 planned launches. NASA and the Defense Department are among the company’s 10 existing customers, Astra said.
In a second test launch from Kodiak in December, Astra’s rocket failed to reach Earth’s orbit after the upper stage engine depleted its fuel seconds too early, preventing the vehicle from reaching orbit velocity. But the company considered the just-shy test flight a success.
Astra aims to differentiate itself in the trillion-dollar market for space commerce by offering smaller, more frequent launches into low Earth orbit.
Craig McCaw, the telecommunications investor partnering with Astra through his SPAC Holicity said in a news release Tuesday that “Astra’s space platform will further improve our communications, help us protect our planet, and unleash entrepreneurs to launch a new generation of services to enhance our lives.”
Shares of Holicity surged by about 40% Tuesday.
The announcement follows the successful launch and docking of the SpaceX Crew Dragon with the International Space Station in November, a pioneering mission that officially marked the first time a privately owned and operated spacecraft certified by NASA made the trip with astronauts aboard.
NASA’s collaboration with SpaceX also represented the next evolution in human spaceflight, as the government works with private companies to design and build spacecraft and rockets. SpaceX, too, seemed to solidify its standing within the space industry, graduating from the status of an upstart rocket company founded by Elon Musk to a significant NASA partner, heightening popular and business interests in commercial space travel
Astra said it expects the deal to close in the second quarter, pending regulatory and shareholder approvals. Listed on the Nasdaq, the company will trade under the ticker symbol ASTR.
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