Kodiak Island spaceport reopens following 2014 launch failure

by George Chambers

A rededication and ribbon cutting ceremony has taken place at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska (PSCA) to reopen the dual use commercial spaceport after a devastating launch failure in 2014. The failure of the STARS-IV missile resulted in heavy damage to the Integration Processing Facility (IPF) and launch pads 1 and 2.

The Launch Failure:

Shortly after 4 am EDT on August 25, 2014 – the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command, as part of the Defense Department’s Conventional Prompt Global Strike technology development program, conducted a flight test of its Advanced Hypersonic Weapon.

2016-08-25-142255The weapon was aboard a STARS-IV missile (modified Polaris-A3 SLBM) and was launched from Kodiak Launch Complex’s Launch Pad 1.

STARS or Strategic TARget System is a launch vehicle family that uses modified Polaris-A3 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles and utilizes a commercial Orbus-1 third stage and an optional ODES Post Boost Module. STARS is tasked with simulating the launch of missile warheads as well as flying payloads on reentry trajectories for organizations such as MDA.

In addition to its Alaska launch site, STARS flies from Pad 42 at Kauai Test Facility located at the Pacific Missile Range Facility.

The 2014 test using STARS-IV targeted the Reagan Test Site in the Marshall Islands, but due to an onboard anomaly that resulted in the vehicle veering off course, the Range Safety Officer terminated the test at T+4 seconds near the launch pad shortly after lift-off to ensure public and personnel safety.

2016-08-25-144507There were no injuries to any personnel. However, extensive damage occurred to the launch center, resulting in the indefinite postponement of the upcoming inaugural Athena-IIc launch from the spaceport.

Program officials conducted an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the flight anomaly.

The Failure Review Board determined that an external thermal protective cover designed to regulate motor temperature interfered with the launch vehicle steering assembly, resulting in termination of the launch shortly after liftoff at the Kodiak Launch Complex.

Moving Forward and Return to Flight:

The failure saw the cessation of launches from Kodiak, a site which last saw an orbital launch back in 2011.

2016-08-25-144633That involved the Orbital ATK Minotaur IV+ rocket, which launched an experimental communications satellite for the United States Navy and Operationally Responsive Space Office.

TacSat-4 was the third in a series of experimental satellites intended to demonstrate new technologies for the US military.

Confirmation of the launch complex’s return to activity after a two year standdown came earlier this month.

On August 13, the Alaska Aerospace Corporation and the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska commemorating the completion of the rebuilding of damaged facilities caused by the launch failure exactly two years earlier.

The event took place inside the rebuilt Integration Processing Facility (IPF), one of the most significantly damaged buildings.  An audience of nearly 100 local residents and invited guests toured the processing facility as well as the Launch Support Structure at Pad 1.

The Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska, formerly known as the Kodiak Launch Complex, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Alaska Aerospace Corporation (AAC), a state-owned company established to expand the aerospace industry in the state.  The Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska located at Narrow Cape on Kodiak Island, Alaska.

2016-08-25-144720Craig Campbell, AAC President and CEO, stated: “With completion of this project, PSCA is ready to welcome new launches supporting both government and private sector companies.”

Over the past few months, AAC has signed a multi-year contract with the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) for multiple launches from the PSCA through 2021.

This included the award of a sole source contract to the AAC to support two flight tests of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense Systems (THAAD).

THAAD is a U.S. Army weapon system intended to defend against short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

2016-08-25-144827The system is a land-based element of the Ballistic Missile Defense System, with Fort Bliss, Texas hosting two THAAD batteries, while Guam hosts another battery intended to protect against the North Korean missile threat in the Asia-Pacific.

“As a long-time advocate who helped bring missile defense to Alaska, this contract award is good news for Kodiak and Alaska Aerospace and even better news for the continued security of our country,” noted Congressman Don Young.

“Over the last several years, I have fought to bring the Missile Defense Agency back to Kodiak, including a provision I included in this year’s defense bill to help enhance the capability of state-owned spaceports, like the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska.

“Overall, I can think of no better place to test THAAD than in Alaska and am happy that Kodiak will once again play an important role testing a part of our nation’s missile defense system.”

AAC is also working with two private companies, Rocket Lab USA and Vector Space Systems, for commercial launches from PSCA as early as 2017.

(Images via, KPSCA, APM, MDA and Eric Schwantes)

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