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Astra goes public, becomes 1st launch company to trade on Nasdaq

Astra's Rocket 3.2 launches on a test flight from Alaska's Pacific Spaceport Complex on Dec. 15, 2020. The rocket reached space, a first for California-based Astra.
Astra's Rocket 3.2 launches on a test flight from Alaska's Pacific Spaceport Complex on Dec. 15, 2020. The rocket reached space, a first for California-based Astra. (Image credit: Astra/John Kraus)

Astra has officially gone public.

Today (June 30), the Bay Area launch startup completed its previously announced merger with Holicity, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) backed by Bill Gates and billionaire telecom pioneer Craig McCaw, among others. 

Astra will start trading on the Nasdaq Global Select Market Thursday (July 1), becoming the first launch company ever to do so — a milestone marked by Astra CEO Chris Kemp, who will ring Nasdaq's opening bell in the morning.

Video: Watch Astra's Rocket 3.2 launch on its 1st successful flight

"We're totally humbled by the opportunity to have public shareholders now to support the mission, and I think that this is really a pretty historic moment," Kemp told Space.com.

Astra, which was founded in 2016, aims to become the launch provider of choice for small-satellite operators by offering flexible, dedicated and cost-effective rides to orbit. The company reached space for the first time in December 2020, during a test flight of its 38-foot-tall (12 meters) Rocket 3.2 from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska's Kodiak Island.

Rocket 3.2 ran out of fuel just seconds before attaining orbital velocity. Astra made some minor tweaks to its successor, Rocket 3.3, and is confident that the two-stage vehicle will achieve orbit during its flight, a fully operational mission that's scheduled to lift off sometime this summer.

Things will accelerate considerably after that, if all goes according to plan. Astra — which already has more than 50 contracted launches worth more than $150 million on its manifest — aims to start flying once per month this fall, then ramp up to weekly missions next year and reach a nearly daily cadence by 2025, Kemp said.

The merger with Holicity values the company at $2.1 billion and is expected to provide Astra with about $500 million in cash proceeds. The money will help Astra achieve its ambitious goals, which also include boosting its rockets' orbital payload capacity from their original 110 lbs. (50 kilograms) to 1,100 lbs. (500 kg) and building spacecraft as well as rockets.

"This is really the big thing that this transaction does for us, is it gives us a fully funded path to daily space delivery," Kemp said. "We didn't have that before."

A handful of other space companies are poised to go public this year as well. Among them is one of Astra's chief competitors, Rocket Lab, which has been launching small satellites to orbit since 2018. Rocket Lab announced in March that it plans to merge with a SPAC called Vector Acquisition Corporation, in a deal that values the launch company at $4.1 billion.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
SPACE.COM SENIOR SPACE WRITER — Michael has been writing for Space.com since 2010. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.