Alaska News

Kodiak rocket complex hosts successful orbital launch in freezing cold

A private rocket successfully launched into orbit last week after taking off in freezing temperatures in Kodiak.

The launch on Friday marked Astra’s first successful commercial orbital launch for the U.S. Space Force at the Pacific Spaceport Complex, the company said in a statement. The Space Force contracted the launch through a Defense Innovation Unit agreement to test the deployment of a dummy payload, the company said.

Just after 9 p.m., the rocket shot more than 300 miles upward and reached orbit in less than 10 minutes, the statement said.

“We’ll be looking hard at the flight data, it’s important to learn from every failure and every success,” said Chief Engineer Benjamin Lyon during a news conference Monday.

The California-based company started about five years ago and built their Kodiak spaceport in 2019 at the state-owned complex. Astra aims to create smaller rockets that private companies can use to launch satellites into space at lower costs.

Friday’s success comes after several other rockets failed to reach orbit, including a launch in August. A 2020 launch resulted in a rocket crashing at the Alaska space station.

The most recent launch was the company’s first ever in freezing temperatures, which Lyon said added an additional challenge.

“We had an 8-inch waterline freeze solid out there and we had a couple of things that we did actually in the campaign, we iterated in the launch attempts as we were up there by putting some heaters on some systems,” he said. “We never operated in these freezing temperatures before -- in the teens, it was actually really the coldest operation we’ve ever experienced.”

The launch marked a milestone for Astra and will allow the company to focus on scaling up production, said Chris Kemp, the head of Astra. Another launch has not yet been scheduled, but Kemp said at the news conference Monday that he doesn’t expect it to be long before another flight occurs.

Kemp did not say if the next launch would be scheduled at the Kodiak spaceport, but said the company aims to launch from multiple locations.