By: Benjamin Lyon
Today, we announced that Astra will acquire Apollo Fusion. This acquisition enables Astra to efficiently deliver and operate throughout our solar system, and brings incredible technology and talent into our team.
So, what is this all really about? At Astra we’re focused on rapid and affordable access to space. This really requires two kinds of transportation: You always have to first fly from Earth to a low orbit on the edge of space, and Astra shines in getting you to the best possible low orbit for your mission. However, often you need to keep going — to fly higher in space for your operational mission. And this is where Apollo comes in.
Let’s dig into this a bit. When flying from the ground to space, you need powerful, high-thrust engines to overcome gravity and push the vehicle with its payload through the atmosphere at an ever-increasing speed. This requires a LOT of thrust and consumes a huge amount of fuel – typically, 90% or more of the weight of a rocket ready to lift off is fuel. Once you get to space and are in a low orbit, the spacecraft is floating in zero gravity, so you can use very small forces to move around. This is analogous to a getting a boat into a lake – it’s very heavy to lift and carry it on the ground, but light paddling will move it easily once it’s in the water.
This “paddling” is where electric propulsion (EP) systems come into play in space. Harnessing the power of the sun, they use electricity to accelerate a very small flow of inert gas to high speed, producing a constant, low thrust that is highly efficient. The high efficiency allows a spacecraft to slowly but continuously accelerate, which moves it to a higher and higher orbit. This makes EP an excellent solution for going from low earth orbits to medium, high, or geostationary orbits, and even to the moon or beyond!
We chose Apollo Fusion because they had developed a leading EP system that is cost-effective and reliable, at scale. Apollo’s design cycles are measured in months, not years, and their solutions are both easy to manufacture and to assemble. They don’t see their job as done when they have something that initially works. Apollo continues to optimize for manufacturability and scalability.
Astra has purposefully drawn its talent from beyond the aerospace industry, and bringing the best practices from tech, automotive, services and other industries has been a key element to our rapid progress to date. Apollo Founder and CEO, Mike Cassidy, shares the same belief in the value diverse skill sets bring. He has both the understanding and experience of how bring consumer technologies like high performance, low power processing to aerospace, with team members from companies such as SpaceX, Google, Tesla and Apple. Their deep expertise is important too: Apollo team members have contributed to over 2,000 satellites in orbit today. Their culture shares Astra’s focus on maximizing development velocity, designing for scale, and passion about the opportunity that space creates.
We are delighted to welcome the Apollo Fusion team into the Astra team! I’m excited to see what we do together.