The First Public Rocket Company Debuts on Nasdaq—It’s Not SpaceX or Virgin

Astra’s Rocket 3.1 left the Alaskan coast at Astra’s Kodiak launch site on September 12, 2020. Astra

The U.S. stock market welcomes its first rocket company on Thursday. It’s not SpaceX, Virgin, or any of those headline-grabbing billionaire-backed ventures, but a little-known small startup (they literally make small rockets, only 38-foot tall) from the Bay Area called Astra Space.

Astra Space began trading on Nasdaq Thursday as it completes the merger with Holicity, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) backed by Bill Gates, telecom billionaire Craig McCaw and other investors. The merger values the combined company at $2.1 billion. Before the SPAC deal, Astra had raised only $100 million in capital. It’s expected to raise $500 million in cash proceeds from the public listing.

“This is the fastest way for us to not only raise over half a billion dollars of capital but also reach public markets,” Astra CEO Chris Kemp told CNBC in February when the deal was announced.

Unlike SpaceX, ULA and other major NASA contractors which build giant rockets, Astra specializes in making rockets for affordable satellite-delivering missions. The company reached space (but not orbit) for the first time last December during a test flight of a Rocket 3.2 from the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Alaska.

Its successor, Rocket 3.3, is expected to achieve orbit in an operational mission this summer. Astra aims to fly weekly missions by next year and possibly daily missions by 2025. Going public “gives us a fully-funded path to daily space delivery. We didn’t have that before,” Kemp told Space.com on Thursday.

“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,” he added.

Astra is going to face intense competition soon. Rocket Lab, a direct rival making similarly small satellite-delivering rockets, is set to go public through a SPAC merger with Vector Acquisition Corporation with a post-listing valuation at $4.1 billion. Rocket Lab has been launching operational missions since 2018. The First Public Rocket Company Debuts on Nasdaq—It’s Not SpaceX or Virgin