KODIAK — A rocket launch will take place this week at the Pacific Spaceport Complex - Alaska, according to a notice from the Department of Homeland Security. This was confirmed by a public safety announcement from the Alaska Aerospace Corporation and will be the second launch of a commercial rocket to take place at PSCA.
The planned launch date is October 12, with back-up dates from Oct. 13-16. Given the right conditions, the launch will take place on one of those days between midday and 4 p.m. local time.
While neither notice mentioned the name of the firm, 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 PSCA. A sub-orbital flight is used for testing purposes and does not travel into space.
“I can only verify it’s the same company that launched last time,” said Alaska Aerospace Corporation CEO Craig Campbell.
Campbell was referring to a test launch of Astra’s Rocket 1 that occurred in July of this year, which resulted in the termination of the rocket 21 seconds into its flight.
“From our perspective, the launch was 100 percent successful. It launched, it went out for 21 seconds,” said Campbell at an AAC town hall meeting on Sep 12. “The vehicle didn’t perform as expected, so it was terminated prior to reaching its suborbital destination.”
“It was 95 percent successful,” Campbell told Kodiak Daily Mirror shortly after the launch in July. “They got a whole bunch of data and a lot of good information from this launch, but it didn’t complete its full cycle.”
A representative of the private space company also told KDM that the launch was a success.
“The launch exceeded our minimum success criteria,” he wrote in July. “Our team, customers and investors are all thrilled with the outcome.”
That was the first launch that AAC facilitated for a private spaceflight company. Prior to that, AAC had handled close to 20 for the federal government, since the opening of the complex in 1998.
According to Campbell, the “mishap” of the July launch did cause damage to the facility and the surrounding areas. Campbell said that “there was some damage to the exterior walls” of one of the buildings, the repairs to which will be paid for by Astra’s insurance. The total area that was impacted by the incident was, Campbell said, “less than a quarter of an acre.”
“We are doing remediation of the impact area for any contamination of the ground,” he added.
While Campbell elaborated no further than that, whatever caused the mishap was does not appear to have put Astra off.
Back in July, a representative of Astra said the company was already planning a second test launch in Kodiak. Signs point to the fact that this week’s launch is that second test.
AAC’s public safety announcement states that, on the launch day, Pasagshak Road will be closed three hours before the launch at Mile 13 (at the PSCA entrance gate) “to ensure public safety.” Once this road block goes into effect, the PSCA entrance will be the farthest point on Pasagshak Road to which the public is allowed to travel until launch operations are complete and the area is declared safe.
“So the closure time is about 9 o'clock in the morning until about 4:30 in the afternoon,” said Campbell.
PSCA has a number of informational notifications planned to let residents know when when roadblocks have been lifted and when normal traffic can resume. The firm will notify the public through local radio stations as well as via a message board located out in Bells Flats to inform drivers heading in the direction of PSCA.
Residents can also visit the “launch” page on AAC’s website (akaerospace.com/launch-page), which now features three different icons representing airways, roadways, and waterways. These icons will be lit up in red when closures are taking place and green when the normal traffic has resumed.
According to Campbell, the current forecast indicates that weather conditions on Oct. 12 may not be ideal for a launch. AAC will do a refined weather forecast Wednesday and begin planning from there.
Maps provided by the DHS show an “area of caution,” that stretches south-southwest from Kodiak. During launch operations, it is advised that mariners and aircraft do not enter this zone. Campbell explained that this is due to a number of reasons, including that the rocket is “multi-staged,” meaning it has different parts that have individual propellants. One or more stages of the rocket will be jettisoned off the main vehicle during launch.
“The other thing is if something does go wrong and we have to destroy the rocket ... that’s the debris field,” said Campbell. “You’re restricted from that area during hours of operation.”
While some industry sources (including the website spacelaunchschedule.com) stated that Vector is scheduled to launch it’s Vector-R rocket, Campbell verified that this has been postponed.
“Vector had wanted to launch in October, but they rescheduled for later this year,” he said. “Vector don’t have a rocket up her right now.”
Campbell said that Vector’s launch is due to happen before the end of the year, but as of yet there is no confirmed date.
“That’s it for the rest of this year, as far as we know,” he said.