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Inside Astra’s rocket factory as the company prepares to go public

Astra VP of Production Bryson Gentile, left and CEO Chris Kemp takes a protective cover of a rocket cover half.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

ALAMEDA, California – Rocket builder Astra wants to simplify the launch business with the soon-to-be public company, which seeks to both reduce production costs while dramatically increasing the number of launches at a daily rate.

Astra is preparing to be announced before the end of June through a merger with SPAC Holicity in a deal that will inject as much as $ 500 million in capital into the company. Meanwhile, Astra is expanding its headquarters on the Gulf of San Francisco as the company prepares for its next launch this summer.

A SPAC or special purpose business company raises capital in an IPO and uses the proceeds to buy a private company and make it public.

CNBC toured Astra̵

7;s growing facility earlier this month, a visit followed by chairman and CEO Chris Kemp and vice president of manufacturing Bryson Gentile.

Benjamin Lyon, Executive Vice President of Engineering along with Senior Vice President of Factory Engineering Pablo Gonzalez and Vice President of Communications Kati Dahm also attended.

The company’s management has a number of different backgrounds from the space and technology industry: Kemp from NASA and the cloud software provider OpenStack and Gentile from SpaceX. Meanwhile, Lyon came from Apple, Gonzalez from Tesla and Dahm from the manufacturer of electric cars NIO.

An overview of the location of the Astra headquarters on San Francisco Bay in Alameda, California.

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Astra’s facilities use infrastructure left over from the US Navy’s former Alameda airport. The company first started with about 30,000 square feet. It now expands to approximately 250,000 square feet of space – including all the way to the edge of the bay, where a newly built city ferry terminal connects Alameda to downtown San Francisco, a 10-minute ride away.

The main area of ​​the company’s headquarters, approx. 25% of its footprint, has an open space for much of its rocket development and assembly.

Astra has also put all its equipment on wheels, with the company’s management emphasizing the flexibility it wants to maintain when expanding its production capabilities.

The production floor at Astra’s headquarters in Alameda, California.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

Its short-term goal is to reach orbit, the next obstacle after its recent launch broke the barrier for space in December. The next Astra launch is planned for the summer, which will also be the first to generate revenue for the company.

Astra’s rocket is 40 meters high and is capable of carrying up to 100 kg to a low orbit around the earth – placing it in the category of small rockets, a category currently led by Rocket Lab.

But Astra’s emphasis is on keeping the price of the rocket as low as possible with a pricing as low as $ 2.5 million per. Launch versus Rocket Labs Electron of approx. $ 7 million per Launch.

A closer look at a half Astra rocket nose cone, also known as a mantle.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

The company emphasized the cost-saving methods it implemented in its approach, where Astra believed it was possible to reach a rocket production rate per day within a few years. The company’s staff compares its rocket to building a small Cessna aircraft.

An example that Astra showed up during the trip was how it builds its mantles – the nose cone from the rocket that protects satellites during launch.

The company said the first sheath, the one used, was made of composite carbon fiber, which is typical of the space industry given how light and stiff the material is. But the carbon fiber cover cost $ 250,000, which requires another solution, as the company eventually wants to bring the total cost of its rocket down to less than $ 500,000.

Astra chose to build its second mantle of metal, which it came down to around $ 130,000. Still, the company needed to go further.

Vice President Gentile explained how the company now uses aluminum tubes to give the sheath its strength by combining it with a dozen petals, which are thin, curved pieces of metal. It reduced the cost of the corrosion to $ 33,000.

Astra plans to come under $ 10,000 per. Fairing by stamping it instead of riveting it together.

Members of Astra’s management team gathered around a rocket gap in production, from right: VP for manufacturing Bryson Gentile, SVP for factory engineer Dr. Pablo Gonzalez, VP of Communications Kati Dahm, Founder and CEO Chris Kemp, EVP of Engineer Benjamin Lyon.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

Another long-term obstacle for the company will be working with regulators to quickly get licenses for launches if it is able to reach a daily rate. Astra’s management said they are working very closely with the Federal Aviation Administration on how to streamline the licensing process, noting that they will also have a dozen or more spacecraft around the world.

Astra’s Mission Control Center for launches.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

Astra also streamlines the operational aspect of its launches, reduces the number of people in its mission control to less than 10, and only needs six people to set up the rocket at the physical launch site.

Its goal is to reduce the number of people in mission control to just two, in fact a pilot and a co-pilot, by automating most of its processes.

Astra’s outdoor workplace, where pieces of its rocket support equipment are assembled and prepared for launches.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

Its rocket system, including the powerful backback that lifts the vehicle vertically to a launch, packs it all into a pair of shipping containers.

First, the Astra rolls a strong back out of the container and into the factory. Then an overhead crane rocket drops straight down on the strongback. Finally, the entire system is rolled into a container and then shipped off.

Astra has three strong backbacks in the assembly, with more to come.

The thick doors leading to one of Astra’s test arc for rocket engines, formerly a US Navy engine testing facility.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

The former naval facility also has two engine test areas with thick reinforced concrete walls.

The night before the CNBC trip, Astra conducted tests on the upper phase of a rocket. This made the engine booth a cool place to visit thanks to the sub-freezing temperatures of a liquid oxygen tank.

Inside an Astra test bunker, where senior executive Andrew Pratt shows off a pair of fuel tanks connected to a rocket at the top of test the night before.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

During a hot fire test, when one of Astra’s Delphin rocket engines is fired up, the inside of the chambers reaches 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Astra representatives said the company can perform as many as 10 to 15 tests of a rocket’s first phase in a day or more than 30 upper phase tests in a day.

Looking back down into the exhaust tunnel in Astra’s test bay.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

Astra will continue to expand its current footprint in Alameda, including a lease for a 500-foot pier and plans for an ocean-going launch platform that it will be able to charge with a rocket in the bay.

The view behind Astra’s headquarters in Alameda, California, overlooking San Francisco Bay.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

Astra CEO Chris Kemp shows part of the area the company plans to use to expand its headquarters.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

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