Astra, a three-year-old rocket startup based in Alameda, California, will attempt to launch a rocket from the Pacific Spaceport Complex - Alaska in Kodiak later this month, according to a Coast Guard Notice to Mariners issued this week.
Until this week, Astra has operated in what they called “stealth mode,” with little interaction with the public. With a newly launched website and plans to livestream the Kodiak rocket launch this month, the company is poised to open up to the world.
“Our mission is to provide the first daily space delivery in history,” states an informational video on the website. Payloads will include small satellites that provide internet connectivity and imagery of Earth.
Alaska Aerospace Corp. CEO Mark Lester said Astra’s decision to come out of stealth mode is “exciting.”
The launch is scheduled for Feb. 21 between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. If the launch does not occur on Feb. 21, it will be rescheduled for the following day in the same time frame. This process will continue until March 1, or until the rocket is launched. If the launch is not successful by March 1, the launch company will reschedule, and new times and dates will be announced.
Lester said that high winds and thick cloud coverage would prevent a launch, but thanks to a new weather radar launches last summer, the spaceport is better able to make informed decisions about weather delays.
During launch windows, road, sea and air closures will be implemented by the Department of Transportation, the Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Administration, respectively. As of Feb. 5, the Alaska Aerospace Corporation website still did not have exact closure information available, but Lester said the information will be available next week.
Lester said Astra required the launch window to be scheduled during daylight hours. The 3.5-hour closure window is the shortest in the spaceport’s history, he added. The spaceport coordinated the closure window so that it falls between Island Air’s regular morning and afternoon flights from Kodiak to Old Harbor, to avoid cancellations.
A commercial fishing cod opener is scheduled for Feb. 24. Lester said the spaceport will not attempt any launches on the day so as not to interfere with commercial fishing.
For the first time, the spaceport will also have a hotline number — 1-833-PSA321 — which will have a prerecorded message with details on upcoming launch windows.
Astra conducted two rocket launch attempts from the Kodiak spaceport in 2018, both ending in failure. While the rockets were able to launch, they quickly fell back to the ground, causing contamination at the spaceport that necessitated extensive soil remediation, paid for by the launch company.
“I know they’ve been hard at work improving their technology,” Lester said.
The rocket scheduled for launch this month is Astra’s Rocket 3.0. Previous launches in Kodiak were Rocket 1.0, launched in July 2018, and Rocket 2.0, launched in November 2018.
According to an article published in Bloomberg Businessweek on Monday, Astra wants to be “the FedEx Corp. of space.” Their goal is to create small, cheap rockets that can be mass produced and deliver satellites into low-Earth orbit for as little as $1 million per launch. The company can currently launch “profitably” for $2.5 million per mission, according to the article, but hopes to bring the price down through efficient low-cost rocket production.
The launch company has already raised $100 million from investors. If Astra’s Kodiak launch succeeds later this month, they stand to win $12 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which launched a challenge in 2018 to incentivize rapid access to space. To win the award, Astra would have to launch an additional rocket from a different location within a few weeks after successfully launching from Kodiak. Astra is the only company still in the running for the award, after Vector Launch Inc. filed for bankruptcy and Virgin Orbit withdrew last year.
According to the Bloomberg article, Astra eventually intends to create a launchpad in the Marshall Islands to match the one they use in Kodiak.
“That would complement Kodiak,” Lester said, noting that the new site would cater to low-inclination orbits. The Kodiak spaceport’s location lends itself to polar orbit launches.
Last year, the Alaska Aerospace Corp. attempted to launch a new spaceport facility in the Big Island of Hawaii but was met with local opposition.
“We as Alaska Aerospace continue to look for a low-inclination orbit site,” Lester said.
Lester said that Astra is expected to conduct numerous additional launches in Kodiak this year. The Spaceport expects six commercial launches this calendar year, from multiple launch companies.
Astra is the “an anchor tenant” of the Pacific spaceport, Lester said, comparing the relationship between Astra and the spaceport to the relationship between Alaska Airlines and the Benny Benson Airport.
“Our hope is to attract another company to be an anchor tenant to Kodiak,” Lester said. “It would be great to have three or four.”