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Astra Hires Longtime Apple Veteran Benjamin Lyon as Chief Engineer – TechCrunch




The new space startup Astra, which is currently focused on commercial rockets but will eventually build satellites, has hired one of Apple’s leading engineering leaders to lead its own engineering efforts. Benjamin Lyon has spent more than 20 years at Apple working on everything from iPhones to input devices, sensor hardware and special projects. Apple’s division is working on self-driving car technology.

“When I considered what to do next with Apple, it was always this combination of” what is the most influential thing I can do for humanity? ” —The iPhone was just one of these, ”Lyon told me in an interview. “The phone was terrible [at the time], And if we can come up with a radically new interface, it will completely change the way people interact with devices. “

Creating a mobile device with an interface that is “fully flexible and fully customizable for the application” seemed to be a huge transformation for Lyon for the iPhone. Inexpensive, scalable and highly efficient rocket space.

“For me, Astra is very similar to redefining the meaning of being smart on the phone,” Lyon said. “I think Astra’s vision is a magical combination of radically removing rocket science from space. How do you do that? Put together to create a good foundation for your team and a fascinating set of products. We need a good foundation of core technology that can. “

According to Astra co-founder and CEO Chris Kemp, as well as Lyon, the Foundation is an important element. Chris Kemp explained why experienced Apple engineers make the most sense to lead the engineering work of rocket startups.

“We didn’t want anyone from aerospace — I just say it outside the gate,” Kemp told me. “Aerospace has never understood how to build a rocket on a large scale or do something useful, so we can find inspiration from people who are associated with other space companies. I don’t think SpaceX and Blue Origin have people who are really good at their work, but in terms of the culture we’re trying to establish in Astra, Apple and Benjamin have been around for decades. Looking back at what he’s been working on there, he really took on not only designing things, but also designing things. It makes things. It was more important than the things themselves. “

Kemp works very closely with its suppliers to run basic component engineering in-house and create unique designs such as system-on-chips that power everything from the iPhone to the Mac, Apple’s acclaimed ability. Is hinting at. Apple often designs the processes involved in creating these basic components and helps suppliers set up the factories needed to build them to strict specifications. Astra’s approach to the space industry is a similar approach focused on optimizing the output of Alameda-based rocket plants and quickly iterating products to meet market needs while maintaining pricing. It is the center.

Also, Astra’s definition of “repetition” is much more in line with what is used in Silicon Valley than what traditional aerospace companies usually endorse. Moreover, even space technology innovators in the watershed, such as SpaceX, are questioning the fundamentals of the industry. Complies with accepted rocket industry methods.

“I don’t use iPhone X on iPhone 1. Start with iPhone 1 and work towards iPhone X,” Lyon told me. “Astra will also see this amazing evolution, but it will be the evolution of tech enterprise rates, as opposed to the” every 20 years “evolution. “

That sentiment is in line with Astra and Kemp’s previous approaches. The company first reached space at the end of last year with a second rocket of three launches planned in a rapid iterative cycle designed to reach that milestone. After these first launches (Rocket 3.1 if tracked) failed to secure space last September, Astra should immediately return to the blueprints and return to a successful attempt in December (Rocket 3.2). I fine-tuned the design. Very fast turnaround for aerospace companies by all means. The company is currently focusing on launching Rocket 3.3. It only requires software changes to be successful and is on track to start offering commercial payloads to paid customers.

Astra’s rocket manufacturing facility in Alameda, California. Image credit: Astra

Astra’s rocket is small compared to the huge Starship SpaceX is currently developing, but it’s part of the attraction that first attracted Lyon to startups.He said, “Design goals[ing] “Rocket tailored to the application”, not just “design”[ing] A rocket to end all rockets makes much more sense to serve a fast-growing market.

“And that’s just the beginning,” he added. “Next, we’ll move on to the next step. Looking at the technology onboard the satellite and the many smart technologies onboard the rocket, there’s a huge amount of duplication, so we’ll remove the duplication. We will design the rocket and satellite together as one system. “

Ultimately, it means not only thinking of launches and satellites as a single issue, but also managing “all experiences of reaching space and managing constellations” as a “single design issue.” Astra, which he equates with Apple’s Steve Jobs at the start of the iPhone project.

Ultimately, Astra wants to provide aspiring space technology companies with everything they need to ensure that the actual space components of their business are fully processed. The idea is that startups and innovators can focus on bringing new models and sensing technologies to Astra, focusing solely on the payload, leaving launch, integration, and ultimately constellation management to the experts. It’s the same as the App Store unlocked for the software industry, Lyon said.

“We’re trying to do something new in aerospace by actually expanding rocket production and also focusing on the overall economics of our business,” Kemp said. Described the additional benefits of. “Especially when we become a publicly traded company, we have very aggressive EBITDA goals and very aggressive production goals, much like Apple, and we want to build new rockets every year. [the iPhone] So, to some extent, we have found that every aspect of Benjamin’s spirit is in line with our values, and that we are creating a culture here in Astra that is constantly producing constant innovation and repetition. “

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