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Astra chief engineer Benjamin Lyon resigns from rocket builder

Benjamin Lyon, chief engineer and executive vice president of engineering and operations

Astra

Beleaguered rocket builder Astra is losing its highly touted chief engineer, Benjamin Lyon, the company disclosed in a securities filing Friday.

Lyon resigned from his role as Astra’s chief engineer and executive vice president of operations and engineering on Monday, the company said. Astra said he is leaving to pursue another opportunity and that his last day is expected to be Dec. 27.

Astra CEO Chris Kemp thanked Lyon “for his service and contributions,” but told CNBC the company is making leadership changes following Lyon’s departure to speed up development of its rocket.

“Putting the team that was reporting to [Lyon] under me basically flattens the entire thing, and just allows us to execute faster,” Kemp said.

After disclosing Lyon’s departure, Astra announced four promotions to its management team. The new Astra program leads: Giovanni Greco on Launch System Delivery, Jonathan Donaldson on Spacecraft Engine Delivery, Doug Kunzman on Launch and Test Operations and Bryson Gentile on Manufacturing.

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Lyon joined Astra in February 2021 from Apple, where he had worked in development for products including the iPhone and Mac.

But Astra is facing an uphill battle after the company pivoted away from its Rocket 3.3 vehicle after a mid-flight failure, and decided to pause launches to build a larger, upgraded vehicle, called Rocket 4.0. The company announced a layoff of 16% of its workforce on Nov. 8, as it works to trim operating expenses and moves forward with development.

“[Rocket 4.0] needs to work and it needs to happen next year,” Kemp added.

Kemp said Lyon’s departure “isn’t a blow” for the company, but the move marks another change to the company’s leadership in the past few months. In October, Astra’s vice president of communications, Kati Dahm, left the company, and last month Chief Financial Officer Kelyn Brannon transitioned out of her role, with the company bringing in Axel Martinez as CFO from Virgin Hyperloop One.

Astra stock is down 92% this year as of Thursday’s close. It received a delisting warning from the Nasdaq in October after its stock fell below $1 a share. The company has until April to lift the share price back above the level.

Shares of Astra were little changed in early trading, from its previous close of 52 cents a share.

Correction: Astra announced a layoff of 16% of its workforce on Nov. 8. An earlier version misstated the date.

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