A launch rehearsal held at the Pacific Spaceport Complex - Alaska in Kodiak ended in a fire on Monday afternoon, according to Alaska Aerospace Corp. CEO Mark Lester.
The fire started at 2 p.m. due to an “anomaly,” which resulted in damage to the pad and a grass fire. The fire was put out by 4:30 p.m. There were no injuries to the team working on the launch, which was set to take place this week. The launch, by California-based commercial rocket company Astra, has been canceled due to the damage.
The fire caused damage to the launch pad, minor damage to a building near the launch pad used for horizontal rocket integration, and grass surrounding the launchpad. Lester estimated the repairs for the damage, which will be covered by Astra, will likely take between weeks to a few months.
“We’ve laid out that pad smartly and it did exactly what it was expected to do,” Lester said.
When asked about environmental impacts, Lester said it is too early to determine what the extent of the damage is.
“Over the next several days, we will continue to assess impacts and will address them appropriately,” he said. A guard was stationed at the entrance to Area 3 of the launchsite, where the fire occurred, to prevent people from entering the area.
“The area is still hazardous and should be avoided,” Lester wrote in a text message.
Lester said that despite the hazardous outcome of the launch preparations, the Pacific Spaceport will continue to work with Astra on future launches. The planned launch, now scrubbed, was expected to be one of a series of launches as the company worked to bring its first payload to orbit.
“Canceling the launch this week is certainly not what we hoped for. We will keep on working together. No one wants to be in this situation,” Lester said. “Everyone wants success, and everyone wants success the first time. There are times when mishaps stand in the way of having success the first time. It’s part of learning. It’s part of the discovery process. We know, though, that space can be hazardous. That’s why we’ve taken painstaking attention to ensure public safety and the safety of our employees.”
Lester said that the spaceport deliberately designed launchpads that can withstand potentially dangerous events.
“On a day like today, it underscores that we need to continue to do things safely,” he said. “Even if (pad) 3B needs some repairs over the next weeks or months, we have other launchpads. It’s part of this business.”
This is not the first mishap Astra has had while attempting to launch from the Kodiak spaceport. The company attempted to launch a rocket into orbit in July 2018 and November 2018. Both attempts were unsuccessful. In the November attempt, the rocket crashed, requiring extensive soil remediation at the spaceport.
The fire comes at the heels of Astra’s canceled launch attempt on March 2. The launch was canceled at T minus 53 seconds after a concerning sensor reading, causing Astra to miss out on $12 million through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Launch Challenge.
A representative of Astra could not be reached at the time of print.