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Astra soars after first successful orbital launch

Astra Space, the California-based launch company that went public this year with an assist from Seattle-area telecom pioneer Craig McCaw, had a high-flying day on Wall Street today after recording its first successful orbital launch from Alaska.

The company’s share price rose by as much as 42% on the Nasdaq stock exchange before settling at $11.17 for a 17% gain at the end of the trading day.

The successful test launch for the U.S. Space Force on the night of Nov. 19 was the key driver for Astra’s financial rise. Rocket 3.3 LV0007 carried a test payload into orbit from the Pacific Spaceport on Alaska’s Kodiak Island — nearly a year after a previous test mission just missed reaching orbit, and three months after a follow-up launch attempt literally went sideways.

Because this mission was meant purely as a test, the payload didn’t separate from the rocket’s upper stage. Instead, it monitored conditions on the vehicle in flight for the Space Force under a contract from the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit. Going forward, the Space Force is likely to be one of Astra’s prime customers.

“Reaching orbit is a historic milestone for Astra,” Chris Kemp, the company’s co-founder, chairman and CEO, said today in a news release. “We can now focus on delivering for our customers and scaling up rocket production.”

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Astra Space joins the satellite broadband race

Make room for yet another competitor in the market to provide broadband internet access from low Earth orbit: Astra Space, the venture that went public with a helping hand from Seattle-area telecom pioneer Craig McCaw, is asking the Federal Communications Commission for authorization to launch as many as 13,620 bit-beaming satellites.

In today’s filing, a subsidiary known as Astra Space Platform Services says its V-band constellation would “bring new opportunities for reliable, high-speed communications services to select enterprise, government and institutional users and partners around the globe.”

California-based Astra is best-known as a launch venture. Last December, it sent a test rocket to space from a launch pad on Alaska’s Kodiak Island and barely missed reaching orbit. Another orbital launch attempt is planned for as early as this month.

Astra said its satellites would be built in-house, and would be launched on Astra’s own rockets. The satellites would be sent into orbital altitudes ranging from 236 to 435 miles (380 to 700 kilometers), and would be equipped with propulsion systems to aid in collision avoidance and post-operational deorbiting.

Potential applications for Astra’s high-bandwidth connectivity would include communications services, environmental and natural resource applications and national security missions.

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Astra Space goes public with boost from tech titans

A California-based space venture called Astra marked its first day as a publicly traded company today, completing a financial transition in which Seattle-area telecom pioneer Craig McCaw played a key role.

Astra went public on Nasdaq by virtue of a transaction with Holicity  — a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that was headed by McCaw and headquartered in Kirkland, Wash. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates provided financial backing for Holicity through a sponsoring fund called Pendrell Corp.

The Astra-Holicity business combination, first announced in February, was approved on June 30 by Holicity’s shareholders. The transaction valued Astra at more than $2 billion, and brought in about $500 million in cash proceeds that Astra will use to accelerate growth and develop its space services platform.

Nasdaq’s ticker symbol for Astra common stock is ASTR, and the symbol ASTRW is being used for Astra warrants.

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Astra makes space deals as it gets set to go public

Astra, the California-based space startup that’s aiming to merge with a blank-check company founded by Seattle telecom pioneer Craig McCaw, has set a July 1 target date to go public on Nasdaq.

That’s the word from Chris Kemp, Astra’s founder, chairman and CEO. “We will start mailing proxy statements today for shareholders of $HOL to vote ahead of the shareholder meeting on 6/30,” Kemp said in a LinkedIn posting. $HOL is the symbol for Holicity, McCaw’s special purpose acquisition company in Kirkland, Wash.

The Astra-Holicity SPAC deal values Kemp’s company at $2.1 billion.

Astra’s Rocket 3.2 launch vehicle made it to space during a test launch from Alaska in December but narrowly missed reaching orbit. Since then, the company has been preparing for its next launch — and racking up business deals.

Last month, Astra announced an agreement to work on a multi-launch mission for Planet’s Earth observation satellites in 2022. And today, Astra said it would acquire Apollo Fusion in a transaction valued at up to $145 million. The deal is due to close after Astra goes public.

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Telecom pioneer hitches up with rocket venture

Back in the 1990s, cellular telecom pioneer Craig McCaw bought into a vision of ubiquitous wireless service via a constellation of satellites, with an assist from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Almost a quarter-century later, McCaw’s Teledesic venture is long-dead, but the dream lives on — thanks to the impending merger of McCaw’s Holicity “blank check” company and Astra, one of the rising stars of the satellite launch industry.

The deal — which takes advantage of the trend toward using special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, to take startups public — values Astra at a double-unicorn level of $2.1 billion, and would unlock up to $500 million in cash proceeds.

Not bad for a space company that hasn’t yet quite made it to orbit.

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Astra misses out on winning $2M from DARPA

Astra rocket on pad
Astra’s rocket stands on its launch pad on Alaska’s Kodiak Island. (DARPA via YouTube)

The once-stealthy California company known as Astra came within 53 seconds of sending up a rocket to try winning a $2 million prize in the DARPA Launch Challenge today, but ended up scrubbing the launch.

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

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Astra chases DARPA Launch Challenge’s prize

Astra launch
Astra launches a test rocket from Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak. (Astra Photo)

The DARPA Launch Challenge has begun, with a once-stealthy space startup called Astra aiming to launch two rockets from an Alaska spaceport within the next month and a half to win a $10 million grand prize.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency set up the challenge in 2018 to serve as an added incentive for private-sector development of a highly mobile launch system that the military could use.

At first, DARPA specified that two orbital launches would have to be executed over the course of two weeks from completely separate launch sites in order to win the top prize. However, program manager Todd Master said the plan was changed for logistical and regulatory reasons. Dealing with all the hassles associated with launches from widely separated sites “wasn’t really our goal in solving the challenge,” Master told reporters today during a teleconference.

Get the full story on GeekWire.