Milestone (11/22/21 Newsletter)
To: Payload Subscribers
November 22, 2021
Good morning. Besides a planetary defense test run, it should be a relatively quiet week for space…
…In what other industries do you get a statement like that!?
In today’s newsletter…
📅 The week ahead
ICYMI: Astra (NASDAQ: ASTR) successfully reached orbit Saturday. The small launcher’s LV0007 vehicle lifted off from a Kodiak, AK, spaceport and deployed a dummy payload for the US Space Force.
“The team’s worked so hard on this for so many years,” Astra cofounder CEO Chris Kemp said on NASASpaceflight’s launch livestream. “We’re just getting started, folks,” he tweeted. LV0008, LV0009, and LV0010 are also in production.
- Astra’s mission-naming conventions = LV, short for “launch vehicle,” + zeros + rocket serial number. Those zeros indicate how many orbital flights Astra hopes to launch.
- By 2025, Astra hopes to launch daily. At that highly ambitious cadence, Astra believes it could further cut dedicated launch prices, which currently start at $2.5M.
- LV0005 reached space, but not orbit, last December. LV0006’s safety officer terminated the August flight ~2.5 minutes into the launch, which was disrupted by an engine shutoff.
Now, Astra has reached orbit roughly five years since it was founded. LV0007 puts Astra in a small and prestigious club of private space players to reach the off-world milestone.
- It took SpaceX six years and change with Falcon 1, the first privately developed liquid fuel rocket to reach orbit. Falcon 1’s development costs clocked in at $100M. SpaceX is still private.
- Rocket Lab and Virgin Orbit, by comparison, reached orbit over a decade after inceptions. Electron cost $100M to develop and get to orbit; while Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne is said to have cost $700M through last July, per Forbes. Rocket Lab went public via SPAC (NASDAQ: ASTR). Virgin Orbit is expected to complete its own SPAC merger soon (NASDAQ: NGCA → VORB).
View from the Street…
Deutsche Bank, in a Monday note seen by Payload, upgraded $ASTR to a buy rating and set a price target of $13. “Overall, we think this means that the next launch (LV0008) likely occurs before year-end given success of LV0007,” DB analyst Edison Yu wrote. “The new rocket should be built by now or nearly complete.”
“There’s more than just a test payload riding on LV0007,” we wrote in October. A stock ticker—and ascending to the public markets—makes a rocket builder’s valuation especially sensitive to each launch. But volatility cuts both ways.
By all accounts, it seems that investors will be excited with Astra this week. At the time of this writing, before market open on Monday, Nov. 22, Astra’s stock price was $9.53. The stock was up by as much as 38% in premarket trading.
NASA is set to launch its Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday. The mission will slam a spacecraft into an asteroid, hoping to knock it slightly off its orbit.
A bit more detail: NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office contracted the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to build DART. APL has a history of building guided missiles for the US military. NASA, meanwhile, wants to test if a guided craft can hit an Earth-threatening asteroid hard enough to derail it. It’s a match made in heaven.
APL built a few new technologies into the DART mission:
- The craft will drive itself using Small-body Maneuvering Autonomous Real-Time navigation.
- Its eyes = the Didymos Reconnaissance and Asteroid Camera for Optical Navigation.
- The Deployable Space Systems Roll-Out Solar Arrays are making their deep-space debut.
- “Kinetic impact deflection,” aka “hit it and make it move.”
The bullseye: DART’s target is Dimorphos, which, at a ~525-ft. width, dwarfs the cubic, four-foot wide, ~1,210-pound DART spacecraft. Were a similar-sized asteroid to hit Earth, it could send humanity the way of the dinosaurs.
NASA scientists will monitor the impact via telescope to determine the feasibility of this technology. We hope it works—and that they never have to use it.
Those solving the hardest challenges in space will define its future. At Lockheed Martin, we have a bold vision for what that future will be. From exploration to defense, Lockheed Martin helps our customers protect, connect and explore, with products like missile warning systems, GPS, weather satellites, and Mars rovers. Learn more.
In Other News
- Sierra Space raised a $1.4B Series A, led by General Atlantic, Coatue, and Moore Strategic Ventures, at a $4.5B valuation. Earlier this year, Sierra spun out from Sierra Nevada as a standalone space subsidiary.
- Telesat went public on the Nasdaq Friday. The satellite operator hopes the listing will open up funding opportunities for its Lightspeed broadband constellation.
- Cygnus, a Northrop Grumman cargo spacecraft, departed the ISS Saturday morning. The craft will remain in orbit for the next month before reentering the atmosphere.
- The US Space Force plans to ramp up its research into hypersonic missile technology following a Chinese test last month that caught US intelligence off guard.
- NASA JPL issued a Request for Information on how to best spend its $500M EO budget.
The Week Ahead
Today: NASA will hold a DART pre-launch briefing at 7 PM EST.
Wednesday: DART’s launch window opens at 1:20 AM EST.
Plus…Russia will send the Prichal Node to the ISS aboard a Soyuz rocket. The node is outfitted with a docking port and four ports where additional modules can be attached. Russia will also launch its fifth EKS satellite, intended to monitor missile launchers, for the Russian defense ministry.
Thursday: Thanksgiving in the States. Payload will be off Thursday and Friday.
Friday: Rocket Lab plans to launch “A Date with Destiny” from New Zealand. An Electron rocket will take two BlackSky EO satellites to space.