Launch pad 1

An aerial view of Launch Pad 1 at the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska on Kodiak Island

KODIAK — A rocket launch last Friday at the Kodiak spaceport experienced a “mishap,” according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

A mishap is an umbrella term used by the FAA when something out of the ordinary or unplanned occurs during a launch event. 

“It was 95 percent successful,” said Alaska Aerospace CEO Craig Campbell. “They got a whole bunch of data and a lot of good information from this launch, but it didn’t complete its full cycle.”

Campbell said no significant damage was done to spaceport facilities during the incident.

Despite the anomaly, a representative of the private space company said the launch was a success.

“The launch exceeded our minimum success criteria,” he wrote. “Our team, customers and investors are all thrilled with the outcome.”

While the AAC would not name the company involved due to a non-disclosure agreement, government filings indicate it is Astra Space, Inc., a California-based outfit licensed for a sub-orbital flight of its “Rocket 1” vehicle from the Pacific Spaceport Complex. A sub-orbital flight is used for testing purposes and does not travel into space.

The launch occurred on the final day of the company’s licensed launch window. The flight — the first commercial spaceflight from the Kodiak spaceport — followed multiple scrubbed attempts dating to April 6. Dense fog on the day of the launch blocked visibility, but the rocket could be heard firing just after 2:00 p.m.

Indications of something out of the ordinary were apparent the morning after the launch, when access to the stretch of Pasagshak Road that runs through the Pacific Spaceport Complex was controlled by spaceport employees. 

“The next day they had the caution lights going,” said Lorain Adams, a Kodiak resident. “Had to show ID to get through.”

Campbell said the AAC blocked access to the road until 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, for safety. Under normal circumstances, the road would have been opened at the close of the launch window at 6:00 p.m. Friday.

The FAA notice was delivered via email by communications officer Hank Price.

“The Astra Space, Inc. launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska at Kodiak Island on Friday, July 20, experienced a mishap,” the statement reads. “It was an FAA-licensed launch, and the agency is reviewing the event.”

Campbell said the FAA review will be conducted with the company. 

According to experts, hiccups are not uncommon for up-and-coming spaceflight companies.

“The only way to test a rocket is to actually launch it,” said Tim Fernholz, a journalist and author of the book “Rocket Billions: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race.”

While the company – the only outfit currently licensed to launch from Kodiak – has kept a very low public profile, according to a lease agreement filed with the city of Alameda, Calif., Astra Space “designs, tests, manufactures and operates” rockets for transporting small satellites into orbit. It is headquartered out of a 17,000-square-foot former Naval facility.

The launch was a first for the Kodiak spaceport. While the AAC has facilitated close to 20 launches with the federal government since 1998, the most recent was its first with a private spaceflight company. Looking to capitalize on the burgeoning “New Space” industry, the AAC has four contracts with private spaceflight companies including Astra, Vector Launch, Inc, Rocket Lab and a fourth unnamed company.

A representative of Astra said the company is already planning a second test from Kodiak, and will be filing paperwork with the FAA later this year.

“They’re not dissuaded,” Campbell said.

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