Max Q: Join us! • TechCrunch
Hello and welcome back to Max Q. Before we get to the news, I have a pretty exciting announcement myself: We’re offering to Max Q subscribers free tickets to TechCrunch’s in-person space event. Find out more about the event and get your free ticket by clicking here.
In this issue:
- Layoffs come to Astra
- News from NASA, Starlink and more
Astra, a rocket startup that went public last year, told investors Tuesday it laid off 16% of its workforce as part of a wider strategy to increase shrinking financial runway and decrease expenses.
The company also said it would reduce near-term investments in space services to grow its core businesses: namely, launch and spacecraft engines. This latter segment in particular has become a growing source of revenue for Astra, with the company reporting it had 237 committed orders for its spacecraft engines to entities including Maxar, OneWeb and Astroscale. That represents an increase of 130% from last quarter.
The layoffs shine an unflattering light on Astra’s quick growth: CEO Chris Kemp told investors during a call Tuesday that the company tripled in size in the space of a year, swelling to more than 400 people. Given that number, Astra reduced its headcount by at least 64 people.
Major space companies, including SpaceX and Relativity, are urging the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stick to its purview — spectrum usage — as it looks to potentially update its rules for in-space servicing, assembly and manufacturing (ISAM) missions.
There is plenty that the FCC could — and should do — to support ISAM missions that sit squarely within its regulatory bounds, the companies said. SpaceX and others, as well as startups like Orbit Fab, which wants to build refueling depots in space, and Starfish Space, which is developing a satellite servicing vehicle, submitted recommendations related to spectrum and ISAM. The commission also heard from Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance and other space companies and industry groups.
Here’s SpaceX: “The Commission must handle this potentially important but still nascent industry with care, exercising caution not to unintentionally stifle innovation by stepping outside the authority expressly delegated to it by Congress.”
More news from TC and beyond
- Apple invested $450 million in upgrades to Globalstar’s ground infrastructure and satellite network to support the rollout of Emergency SOS via satellite for iPhone 14 users. (Apple)
- China is reportedly scrapping plans to make the booster of the Long March 9 heavy-lift rocket expendable in favor of a fully reusable booster. (SpaceNews)
- NASA did not move the Space Launch System rocket back to the safety of a hangar in advance of Hurricane Nicole’s approach, so the $4.1 billion rocket rode out the storm on the launch pad. As engineers continue inspecting the rocket for damage, the agency decided to move the next launch date to November 16. (NASA)
- Northrop Grumman‘s Antares rocket sent a Cygnus spacecraft to the International Space Station for cargo resupply, a successful mission despite one of the capsule’s solar arrays not deploying properly. (Northrop Grumman)
- Rocket Lab had tons of news this week — in addition to releasing its quarterly financial results, the company also announced it won a $14 million contract to supply separation systems for U.S. Space Force satellites. (Rocket Lab)
- Rocket Lab set a launch date for its first mission from U.S. soil: December 7. My personal suggestion: come to the TC Sessions: Space event on the 6th, then take a direct flight to Virginia. Just saying. (Rocket Lab)
- Seraphim announced the newest cohort of space startups that will participate in the Seraphim Space Accelerator and Generation Space Accelerator. (Seraphim)
- SpaceX will impose slower speeds on Starlink users that use large amounts of power during peak hours, in an effort to curb network congestion and increase performance. (CNBC)
- Starfish Space provided more details about its in-space satellite docking demonstration mission that will take place next year. (GeekWire)
- Virgin Orbit received a $25 million cash injection from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group as the launcher company’s cash on hand continues to decline. (Virgin Orbit)
- Voyager Space’s Nanoracks has a new CEO: NASA astronaut and former OneWeb Technologies president Tim Kopra. (Voyager)
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