Investing in Space: A launch guide
Ignition of the SLS rocket launching the Artemis I mission on Nov. 16, 2022.
Bill Ingalls / NASA
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Overview: A launch guide
Earlier this year, Astra set out to launch a mission with its now-discontinued Rocket 3.3 vehicle. With midday trading underway on stock exchanges, Astra’s stock plunged after the rocket triggered an abort shortly after igniting its engines. The launch was halted, and so was the stock.
While that rocket would launch three days later (and suffer a mid-flight failure for a separate reason), that February abort sent Astra’s stock down 13%. The trading activity, whether speculative, opportunistic or otherwise, demonstrates a key risk in attempting complex launches while public markets watch.
Space executives have often impressed upon me that investor education about their companies, and the industry as a whole, is crucial. And Deutsche Bank analyst Edison Yu previously told me that many investors “see this as still a very nascent industry,” with some stakeholders “not necessarily understanding some of the nuances.”
With that in mind, here’s a brief, casual rundown of some key terms to know along the way:
- Window: The times within which a launch needs to happen to reach its intended destination.
- Stage: The sections of the rocket, typically identified as first or lower, second or upper, and so on.
- Payload: The spacecraft or instrument being delivered to space.
- Terminal count: When the rocket’s onboard computers take control of the countdown, typically in the last few minutes, to automatically make any hold or abort decisions.
- Ignition: Lighting the engines.
- Hold: A pause in the countdown.
- Scrub: Postponing a countdown and no longer attempting to launch at the previously set time.
- Abort: Ending a launch after ignition, whether still on the ground or in flight. (An abort is not a scrub, but can cause a scrub!)
- Anomaly: A problem or unexpected situation, with either the hardware or software of the rocket.
If you want to dive in deeper on some of these terms, or have others you’d like to look up, astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell has a helpful glossary that you can CTRL+F search.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend!
- NASA flies Orion close to the moon in Artemis 1 milestone: The spacecraft passed about 81 miles above the lunar surface during day five of the Artemis 1 mission. – CNBC
- SpaceX to build another Crew Dragon spacecraft. The additional astronaut capsule will bring SpaceX’s Dragon fleet to eight in total, with five for crew and three for cargo. – Read more
- Space Force opens door for Blue Origin to compete for future launch contracts: The cooperative research and development agreement does not come with funding, and is largely symbolic, but the military branch said it “paves the way” for the New Glenn rocket to compete for contracts.– SpaceNews
- Aerojet Rocketdyne to expand manufacturing in Alabama. The defense and space company will build a 379,000 sq. ft. facility near the Huntsville airport, which is expected to be operational in 2023. – Aerojet Rocketdyne
- European Space Agency announces 2022 astronaut class, with 17 new candidates in total and the agency’s first recruits in 13 years. – ESA
- Rocket Lab wins NASA contracts to launch remaining TROPICS missions: After Astra’s first TROPICS launch failed, the agency reassigned the remaining pair of missions to the other, leading small-rocket launcher. – NASA
- Redwire president and COO Andrew Rush is leaving. The company disclosed in a filing that Rush will leave on Dec. 9, with a severance package that includes 12 months salary and stock options. – Redwire
- Virgin Orbit decides not to attempt to raise money through securities offering. The company cited “current market conditions” for why it decided not to move forward. – Virgin Orbit
- Virgin Galactic appoints Sarah Kim as chief legal officer: The space tourism company brought on Kim from Topgolf Callaway. – Virgin Galactic
- Bessemer Ventures sells portion of Rocket Lab stake: The VC sold 8.1 million shares, but still owns about 57 million shares. – Rocket Lab
On the horizon
- Nov. 30 – Credit Suisse global industrials conference, with space companies attending, including BlackSky.