Wall Street’s latest easy money craze has attracted a growing number of space companies. But, just because they can go public, should they?
by Douglas Messier Managing Editor
Seven space companies have gotten caught up in the SPACovirus sweeping through Wall Street. The impact on the space industry is going to be interesting to watch.
A SPAC is a special purpose acquisition company. It’s a publicly traded investment firm that, with outside investors, acquires or merges with another company, and then takes the acquisition public under its own name.
Indian startup Agnikul Cosmos Launch Vehicles has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to test its Agnibaan booster at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on Kodiak Island.
The agreement commits Agnikul and Alaska Aerospace Corporation to working together to obtain regulatory and export control approvals from the Indian and American governments for an initial test launch in 2022, CNBC TV18 reports.
“We are thrilled Agnikul has partnered with Alaska Aerospace for high inclination flight testing. Agnikul has established itself as a leading rocket technology company, and we are pleased Alaska’s proven launch infrastructure and expertise continue to attract new space launch companies from around the world,” said Mark Lester, president and CEO of Alaska Aerospace.
Astra’s attempt to launch its Rocket 3.1 booster from Alaska came to grief on Friday as the first stage failed in flight, causing the booster to fall back to Earth where it exploded on impact.
“Successful lift off and fly out, but the flight ended during the first stage burn,” the company tweeted. “It does look like we got a good amount of nominal flight time. More updates to come!”
Dramatic video posted on Twitter showed the rocket lift off from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The roar of the engine suddenly stopped, and the rocket fell to Earth.
“We are excited to have made a ton of progress on our first of three attempts on our path to orbit! We are incredibly proud of our team; we will review the data, make changes and launch Rocket 3.2, which is nearly complete,” Astra tweeted.
Astra, which is based in Alameda, Calif., is attempting to develop an inexpensive rocket capable of launching payloads weighing 25–150 kg (55–331 lb) to a 500 km (311 mile) high sun-synchronous orbit for the ultra-low price of $1 million per flight.
There’s a media report that the Astra Space’s One of Three booster suffered an “anomaly” on Monday while undergoing a dress rehearsal for a launch later this week from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on Kodiak Island. KMXT radio reports:
No details have been released yet as far as what caused the anomaly or how it may affect the upcoming launch.
At 5 p.m. [Alaska Aerospace CEO Mark] Lester said the emergency response had concluded. “The area is still hazardous and should be avoided. There will be personnel on site overnight to monitor,” he said.
Astra Space is developing a booster capable of launching small satellites into low Earth orbit for a price of only $1 million per flight.
Here’s quick look at the launches scheduled for the rest of March. Information from Spaceflightnow.com’s launch schedule.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled for March 30 is listed. However, unofficial reports say it has been delayed indefinitely due to travel restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The booster will launch the SAOCOM 1B Earth observation satellite for Argentine.
What the months ahead hold in terms of launch is uncertain. Europe has suspended flights out of its launch base in French Guiana. Whether other spaceports are closed remains to be seen. China appears to have weathered the worst of the virus.
I would expect crew and cargo flights to the International Space Station (ISS) to continue. The first crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft to ISS is scheduled for mid- to late May. It’s difficult to say whether that schedule will hold.
Launch Vehicle: Long March 2C Payloads: 3 Yaogan 30-06 military surveillance satellites Launch Time: Approximately 11:40 p.m. EDT on 23rd (0340 GMT on 24th) Launch Site: Xichang, China
Astra Space scrubbed the launch of its new booster from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska (PSC — Alaska) today, putting an end to its attempt to win $12 million in the DARPA Launch Challenge and the competition itself.
The countdown reached 53 seconds prior to a scheduled liftoff at 11:55 a.m. AKST (3:55 EST). The guidance, navigation and control officer called a hold on the launch for an undisclosed data problem.
Astra Space spent the next two hours trying to address the problem and launch the rocket with four satellites aboard. The company scrubbed the launch with about 30 minutes left in the three-hour launch window.
Astra Space, which is based in Alemeda, Calif., was attempting to win $2 million from DARPA for launching today. If it was successful, the company would have been given an opportunity to conduct a second launch from a different pad at PSC — Alaska within days to win an additional $10 million.
The competition challenged companies to conduct two launches on relatively short notice within a few weeks from different locations.
Astra Space was given two weeks to relocate its booster and equipment to Alaska and conduct a launch. Monday was the last day in the launch window for the first launch.
Astra Space was the last company standing in the DARPA competition. Virgin Orbit subsidiary VOX Space pulled out of the competition to focus on the still-pending maiden flight of its LauncherOne booster. Vector Space filed for bankruptcy.
The DARPA Launch Challenge is nearing its end with modified rules and only one of three finalists left standing to win $12 million in prize money.
Astra Space will attempt to conduct two launches within days of each other from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The launches will take place from different pads at the spaceport and place satellites into different sun-synchronous trajectories.
ANCHORAGE, AK, February 21, 2019 (Alaska Aerospace PR) — Alaska Aerospace released the 2018 Annual Report, titled “Rockets and Roll’n,” commemorating twenty years of space launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) at Narrow Cape, Kodiak. From the first launch in 1998, Alaska Aerospace has completed nineteen government operations, but in in 2018 the first two launches of small commercial launch vehicles were conducted at PSCA.
“This marked a significant moment for Alaska Aerospace, as the company diversified our customer base and entered a new era of space launch activities providing tremendous opportunities for further growth at our spaceport,” stated Mark Lester, Alaska Aerospace President.
There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.
The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.
A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.
Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.
The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)