The launch facilities at the Pacific Spaceport Complex on Kodiak Island in Alaska are set to host a secretive commercial launch later this month or early next. Officials confirmed the launch period but did not specify the company, the vehicle, nor the specific time of day when the launch is planned to occur.
In fact, the only notice sent out about the launch was in a “Local Notice to Mariners” issued March 14, letting them know that at some point between March 26 and April 6, a rocket launch is set to occur. Mariners were advised to avoid two particular areas during this time, identified in the notice as “caution areas.” The first is immediately south of the complex, while the other is about 700 kilometers southwest.
When questioned, officials could only confirm that the launch operation was named P120, and that the company in question is a stealth company operating out of California. Since it is a commercial launch, the company in question does have to obtain a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. At the moment, there are no corresponding licenses on publicly available active license lists. However, stealth companies often apply for these types of licenses immediately before a launch, to reduce the release of information they want to keep private. Officials did say that they planned to release more information following the launch.
There is speculation in the space exploration community that this secretive company is Astra Space. A contract was signed between Astra Space and Alaska Aerospace Corp. last year, with Alaska Aerospace being contracted to support company launches. This contract includes four launches of a liquid fuel commercial vehicle. These vehicles are set to be the first ones of their kind launched in Alaska, as the complex previously only launched solid-fuel rockets. If the launch is a success, it could be the start of the development of innovative launch technology.
Lending credence to this argument is a payment of a deposit in the amount of $100,000 from Astra Space to Alaska Aerospace for the reservation of a launch date in February or beyond. Astra Space is a little-known start-up that manufactures, designs, and operates launch vehicles. Their goal is to further scientific discovery in all respects, including global communications, weather monitoring, and observation. As part of this work, a 12-meter-tall rocket is being developed, capable of low Earth orbit.
Alaska Aerospace has been hit with bad luck in the past, and officials hope two planned upcoming launches can turn things around. In 2014, a failed US military missile test caused extensive damage to the spaceport, putting it out of operation for approximately two years. In addition to this stealth launch, the complex is in talks with Vector, to provide support in launching the Vector-R rocket no earlier than July.